Knowing your biases

A lesson in critical thinking that I am taught as a potential PhD candidate is to always make an opinion knowing my unique biases. Now this may seem a matter of fact notion but its unbelievable how people take things for granted, at least I have and probably will continue to do so. For instance, its common for me to greet someone by saying ‘Hi’ followed by the conventional ‘How are you’. Now this rather dull sometimes even annoying salutation is very widely used among the people of various  nationalities I’ve had the pleasure to chat with, but among many Hong Kong locals it is not customary. In fact, Hong Kongers find this a personal question to be answered frankly only after the preliminary small talk is over. Can you imagine thinking of how-are-you’s like that?

It gets funnier, in Hong Kong people greet you by asking if you have eaten yet. Yes, there are some combinations for instance they will add lunch or dinner depending on the time of the day but the emphasis is always on food. If you are doubtful about the strangeness of this, imagine yourself in an elevator with a scrawny looking old guy at night as you leave the office. The guy gives you a grin and asks ‘Hello, have you had dinner yet?’ – excuse me? Did you just ask me out for dinner!? I don’t know you man! Alright I may be exaggerating for effect but living in Karachi or even London, nobody ever asked me if I had eaten right of the bat unless they really meant it. Although I must say it’s a different affair if the hot receptionist in the building is asking – it’s an elating feeling until you realise she neither cares if you have eaten nor is interested in dating you. Hong Kongers feel equally perplexed if you ask them ‘How-are-you’ although its strangeness is some what diluted, after all this is a former British colony in East Asia.

It is important to appreciate our differences and the nuances since that gives us a wider perspective and helps us make better choices. For me, knowing that I was brought up in a traditional muslim family in Karachi makes me appreciate the subtleties of a community living in a sometimes violent and mismanaged society. So I am always careful how I phrase ‘patronage’ or ‘connections’ or baradari, which in the West is looked upon unanimously as undermining meritocracy. Not all baradari is bad right? After all in the US people have replaced the term with the ubiquitous ‘references’ and in China they give it an entirely new meaning, Guanxi. But being self-aware of this bias also makes me realise its potential for abuse which otherwise I would have overlooked in the name of ‘getting-business-done-in-Pakistan’; it is no coincidence that developed countries have significantly less corruption than developing ones.

I am in no way implying that any one paradigm or school of thought is correct but the point here is simply to remember your eccentricities. To know why you believe in what you do, to know why you are likely to say something and to know why you recommend a certain course of action. This ontological bearing is not just about having a genuine conversation with others but also about being truthful to your self. As Stuart Hall writes – common sense is the biggest ideology of all.

Biases are great, they gives us character. But know that you have them and always admit them. Always.

Media as a Catalyst for Structural Change in Pakistan – Thesis Abstract

I quite literally stumbled upon the prospects of doing a PhD when halfway through my official editorial internship at the Eastern Eye newspaper I was informed by my MA coordinator that I will still have to write a dissertation as partial fulfillment of my MA program as well. Normally a student is given a choice to do either of the two but as it turned out I ended up with a lot of extra work. However, what started of as a mere accident turned out to be a blessing as the learning, networking, contact building and field experience I acquired in the process made my masters experience truly grand besides opening a whole new career opportunity in academia.

I secured a first class on my dissertation supervised by the very able Dr. Brilliant Mhlanga who is a mentor and a great friend. Here is an abstract of my dissertation. Please feel free to post a critique in the comments section. Cheers!

Thesis title: MEDIA AS A CATALYST FOR STRUCTURAL CHANGE IN PAKISTAN

ABSTRACT

This study is an investigation of the rise of the public sphere in Pakistan after the liberalization of media at the end of the Kargil conflict 1999, its implication for public participation in policy making and the potential for structural change of Pakistani institutions as a result. The basic notion of media theory is that politics and ideology of a country have direct consequences on the media power models in a society. If that is the case then does it logically follows that the reverse may also hold true? This is the premise of this investigation. To this effect problems of a colonial past unique to Pakistan and indeed South Asia are juxtaposed with the nature and development of Journalism in Pakistan before and after Independence in 1947 with particular emphasis on the political economy of newspaper and television media after promulgation of PEMRA Ordinance 2002. The study follows a qualitative research paradigm with an interpretive and constructivist epistemology by utilizing a combination of stakeholder mapping technique with a case study paradigm. The findings indicate that the paradigm shift in the mobilization of public opinion after 2001 has caused a significant amplification of public voices, that there is no doubt that private media has emerged as a vanguard for the publics especially under the lens of the Lawyers Movement in 2007 and that there is strong evidence to suggest that public policy is not as ambiguous and arbitrary as Pakistanis are led to believe. The assertions surmise that sorting the right balance in the nexus of power between a socially responsible and authoritative media can theoretically effect a similar healthy change in other institutions of the Pakistani State.

I will upload the link to the entire thesis very soon but if you have any specific queries you can email me directly at siddiqui.aayaz@gmail.com.

Pursuing a Career in Academia

The reason why many people write about themselves is to satisfy an inner desire to reflect and perceive their thoughts better. Indeed a certain tell tale sign of a blooming novice writer is the subtle reflection of autobiographical accounts in his or her work. And there is no obvious fledgling slave of the pen (or rather a keypad) as I am. The reason behind this often utilized technique is that it gives a tangibility to our otherwise visceral thoughts, just like saying something out loud makes it a ‘happening’. Thus it was with apprehension and mild irritation that I wrote the title for this post given my history of career hopping and the tremendous pressure of standing on my own two feet. Besides the odds against settling in a career of exactly your own choosing are exceptionally high. Am I really going to make it?

For those not well versed with the job description of an academic allow me to elaborate. In its essence an Academic is anyone engaged in higher education and research at a University or other institution with the ultimate objective of becoming a master in the chosen field. Lecturers, professors and the entire spectrum of people with similar titles fall under this profession. Now when we talk about academics we picture hunched back bald men wearing cheap tweed jackets raking of moth balls and pipe tobacco. People we have grown to despise and made fun off since primary school and It is with some chagrin that I admit to being party to some dreadful practical jokes on my school and college lecturers.

However you might be quite surprised to know that college and university professors earn a decent living especially those who are young and on top of their game.  International travel, publicity, fame and prestige, money, flexible working hours etc are some very attractive aspects of an academic career. That and knowing that the work you do contributes to the advancement and growth of society as opposed to sweating it out in an office cubicle makes it a wise career choice.

But as with any other profession it takes time to build. Reputation and personal branding are a very important aspect of the game besides keeping very up to date with developments in the field. People take years to realize these goals. But of course nothing worthwhile is achieved without chopping out a limb (metaphorically) and chewing up some grey matter (not so metaphorically). So as I spend my time these days in front of the computer, reading as many relevant journal articles and books as I can, scrutinizing over government reports, media texts and maintaining a correspondence with industry veterans in my quest to perfect my PhD proposal I too find myself faced with doubts whether I have enough optimism and charisma left to finish this great task.

I had mentally prepared myself for this gruel as I was heading back to Karachi; days of freely roaming the streets of London to converse with intriguing authors, starting the day with the weather report, catching up on the news in the tube amid people of assorted colors, shapes, sizes and I daresay looks, yes its quite refreshing to exchange an innocent flirty smile with a beautiful women during the morning commute gives a certain oomph to the day. All that is in the past now, its back to Karachi…

*Peep *beep *beeeeeeepppppp

Abay ghoor kia raha hai … agay bhar

Bap key road hai kia…

Hahah…

But despite these shortcomings of my home city I can’t help but think about the conversations with people on this subject; living in Pakistan you have time on your hands and when you are not constantly engaged in making round the clock living you can spend time planning and getting inspired, that dreaming big is the only way to dream but most of all instead of looking at this phase with bleak, uncertain and morose eyes one should look at it as raw, uncertain and full of opportunity. I stand firm.

 

 

Pff. Youtube is still banned! I might have to fill this space with a soundcloud plugin. Standby mates.

Alternate Relationships

Growing up we had such mystical illusions about love and sex especially if you were a South Asian. There is this standard model that our parents, forbearers and ancestors have raised us to live by, a code some might say; grow into adolescence where puberty is a topic that men are left to figure out on their own and women are told is a scared biological process that marks their transition into adulthood. In our twenties men are left to conquer the world, make their mark and stand on their own two feet with the added privilege of experimenting, breaking hearts and dealing with their libidos by any means necessary with the understanding that when the time comes the code of their fathers and their fathers before them must be observed by settling down with a mate till death do them part.

Women get a slightly twisted version of the same fate. In their twenties they are meant to concentrate and focus on completing their education, be bastions of chastity and be holier than thou as  they are the pride and honour of the family. They are taught to master their impulse and to conquer their libido for it is forbidden to indulge on those vile carnal desires.

Do we South Asians really know what it feels like to be free? To do what our hearts tell us, to trust in fate and take a leap of faith, to believe in something more profound than what we are taught as children. I don’t know how you will explain this, some may say we are brainwashed, some might say its just a matter of following our traditions while others might argue that its just a matter of listening to alternative opinion or justifying actions by experimenting in adulthood and honoring the code when the time comes to tie the knot.

The questions remains however, how many of us have what it takes to respect our own life choices and go all the way? How many of us want a successful husband with a house and two cars or a beautiful wife in the prime years of her biological clock to achieve happiness? Ok maybe most of us want the latter but is that the only successful path that life has to offer in its quest for culmination?…

AND THEY HAD THESE WONDERFUL CHILDREN WITH WHOM THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER …even reading this sounds banal isn’t it?

For me a relationship is something that fulfills a need; it supports us emotionally, physically and serves as a base camp to climb on towards our intended goal. Thus the best relationships are those which have a common agenda and work towards a common life purpose. But once that purpose is achieved what is next? The rational answer would be to move on to the next goal and start afresh. Our South Asian morality dictates however that we must hold fast to those commitments and carve out a way through the challenges. The truth is when we grow up we are foregoing all our rights of choice and personal happiness, those quintessential traits required to explore our truest potential as sentient beings.

Can you imagine what you wanted to be when you were growing up? An Astronaut? (ok that was a bit cliched) but how about an air hostess or a nurse or a veterinarian or even a soldier? I won’t ask about your vocation right now but imagine if you went through all the various financial and familial hurdles in your quest to realize your dreams. Maybe you didn’t become an astronaut but that was probably because you weren’t meant to be one, however you did became an astronomer and discovered the next Earth like planet! Maybe you didn’t become a veterinarian but that was probably because you weren’t smart enough however you did become a wildlife photographer.

The point I’m trying to make is that maybe life is not written. Perhaps there are no paths that you need to follow but ones that you create in your quest to realize who you are. And you do that by never wavering from your desires and having a laser sharp focus. If what I say right now makes sense then its important to understand that relationships should also be dealt with in the same manner as you do your dreams. To talk about divorce or open relationship or a trail separation would be disgustingly simple. But I believe that it is possible to fall in love with someone and wanting to spend the rest of your days with them but at the same time giving priority to your personal development; loving more than one person at the same time. There are varying degrees of feelings and intimacy a person can have for people.

Maybe this all seems a bit idealistic heck if it were up to me the world would be full of artisans and scientists. No one would be ordinary. All the constructs that we have created about society as we know it; religion, order, government, politics and financial markets would become defunct. Pedophiles and mass murderers would be in abundance while naked couples would be running around shanty towns chased by bearded men armed to the teeth with AK47s. A dystopian future where the assumption is that man’s soul is always open to corruption. This is most likely to be true I mean without restraint we are more likely to succumb to our most sadistic desires right?

Then what the heck am I talking about when the probability of us screwing things big time if left to our desires is 99%. But just for one second think and imagine that there is a 1% chance that a society where there are only artisans, poets and scientists forms a reality utterly fascinating. A world where there is no meaning of the word crime, disease, fornication and hatred. A world almost mystical where innocence is the most sought for, most commendable most rewarded attribute. Where relationships do not exist as we know it, where the more people you are intimate with the more love you spread and feel good about.

More Interesting Lessons – the Genie way

Now for some good news, I am moving to London in a few days would you believe? That has been my ambition since I landed on this rock, which by the way was exactly an year ago from today. I was a little perturbed last year while moving to Hatfield and you would know what I mean if you party in arguably the world’s greatest city for a few days only to get relocated to its obscure outskirts. Heck I am talking about a transition from the pristine London Underground to cows and green pastures. But as it turns out Hatfield and its adjoining areas aren’t that bad and the general camaraderie sort of rubs on to you when you spend enough time. Needless to say I had an incredible time here many incidents I have talked about already and some that will probably stay confined in my wacky mind.

So in an odd twist of events I find myself relocating by default and by the grace of whoever’s up there even found a place near Central London. These days I am spending quality time visiting various spots around Hertfordshire which hold a certain memory and its all a very nostalgic even melancholic experience. Each memory reminds me of the people I studied, worked, partied, fought and made bonds with, around hundred different nationalities which gave UK its unique character.  But not much time left on the visa and I am under pressure again to make the most of it. This time around I am not afraid. In fact I am almost apathetic to my career but in a good way. Let me explain:

Wonderful! Magnificent! Glorious!… Punctual! Punctual?!

Keeping Your Edge:

I think we as human beings are genetically wired to be impatient. Always shooting for the candy without waiting for the right time and being an urban dweller this wiring is especially poignant. Having spent most of my life so far in two of the biggest most cosmopolitan locations on this planet; Karachi and London this wiring is a particular mess in my chromosomes. However, spending time on my own and working on my dissertation has taught me the virtues of being patient and self-reflective. Number one lesson, nobody knows what they are going to do in the next five years or how they will reach their goals. I really don’t understand why they even teach this concept in business school it’s such a load of hogwash. Reality is you just give in your best shot and hope for the best. Its called keeping your edge or your cool if you are a millennial.

PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWERS! Itty-bitty living space!

Staying Positive and Healthy:

Let me tell you something and this is coming from a guy with an average build and up until a few years ago, a seriously numb outlook on life, exercise, exercise and exercise. I first started working out at the insistence of my then girlfriend and naturally the motivation was to impress her, look more attractive, increase pheromones all that bullshit. As was expected I dropped out within a few months because the motivation was not pure and therefore not strong. The second time I started was because I genuinely felt the need to improve my outlook on life and it worked like a charm. I found some fascinating changes in my life, proper sleeping cycles, bathroom routines, drastic cutting down of nicotine, caffeine and other intoxicants of all shapes and forms. I found myself getting less tired and simply happy. Good things started happening like increased productivity, increased social life etc. This may sound like a big cliche I’m probably only the billionth person on Earth talking about exercise but let me conclude the argument by saying that I always returned to my pessimistic comfort zone everytime I dropped works outs.  Also I had some very interesting and risque times in Hatfield during the months I was working out 😉

If in doubt – Just don’t do it:

At the risk of sounding cocky I want to say that I am smart if only because I think too much. Over thinking has been one of my greatest weaknesses and you know this is the first time ever I am boldly admitting it. Phew a big load of my chest. This problem had been a characteristic of my personality until this year; living alone puts annoying decisions in front of you every day and all you can do is weigh  in the obvious pros and cons. Well I have devised a system where if a decision has to be made I reflect whether I have ‘that lingering doubt’ at the back of my mind. If that doubt is the first thing I associate with a decision and if the feeling lingers after exploring certain obvious alternatives I drop the decision altogether. So far this approach has been working amazingly. I am by no means implying not to take risks. On the contrary this approach not only helps you weed out time wasting opportunities but ensures you jump quickly at the next potential opportunity; when you feel excited about doing something even when in doubt. Only this time around your feeling of elation and wonder is greater than doubt. This my friend is the cue to pounce on it like a wild animal.

Here’s the deal, if ya wanna court the little lady, ya gotta be a straight shooter. Do ya got it?

These are some more lessons I want to take with me when I move out. And as again, I am hopeful, naively optimistic, sadly misinformed, but with each passing year I realize I have shed a part of my shell and made another feeble albeit successful attempt to stand on my own. I know I am very close.

Lets listen to something alternative today:

Some Interesting Lessons

Just make it last :-)
Just make it last 🙂

You know what guys, I have been thinking of separating my portfolio blog from my personal blog. The fact is you cannot stay anonymous over the internet. Its tough especially if you are not an internet geek. And I know, ‘its been ages since I last blogged’ this line… I have been noticing comes at the start of most of my posts. Should I keep this as my intro from now on? Let me know what you think.

Now for some serious stuff. This post is going to be about some of the lessons I’ve learnt in the past few months. I just finished and completed my dissertation for the MA. It was quite an ‘epiphanying’ experience or maybe not but I tell you what I have made some incredible discoveries about myself in the past few months; about journalism, my career and about life in general  ;-). Let me put it this way, I stopped partying at the end of April. I knew there was a lot to do, I had to find a work placement while researching for the dissertation. It was crazy, I still do not believe how I managed to complete it all. And a trip back home to Pakistan too haha. That was another experience, it reminded me of all the reasons why I can’t stay in Pakistan any more. Pff  Its true! There is a difference between love for your country and settling for a better life if you can. Any way now for the lessons, here we go:

Hard working if I try

This was a truly cathartic episode because after the success of my Ordinary levels things just took such a downward spiral I didn’t knew I had in me to redeem myself. And while all of that was happening, I was in college, confused, experimenting and discovering myself. I have been to extremes I can tell you it is not pretty. But at the end I must say that unless you learn and experience for your self why something is bad you wont ever stop doing it. I don’t just mean partying. One more thing I’ve learned to accept is that nothing is bad, that is just a matter of perspective, what is important is knowing what is good for you at the right time and keeping things moderated.

But enough on that, what I want to emphasize is that the past few months have made me realize that I can still achieve things when I put my mind to it, that I am not hooked on anything person, thing, place whatever, and when I decide to focus on something I make it happen. I really didn’t know I still had it in me but the whole process of researching and working on my dissertation project has sparked a very healthy combustion in my brain. I feel like I can do anything and that the world is full of opportunities!

Possible career path

Second thing I learned without going in to detail here is a possible career path. Now that is a big deal for me cause I have principles, I like to figure things out for myself. I remember as a child how everyone use to say ‘hey Ayaz mate you ask a lot of questions’ or ‘hey Ayaz you always sound confused’ or ‘hey Ayaz I don’t know where you are going with this mate’, well I can smirk back at every single one of those people and tell them you know what I know what I have to do , these are the fucking reasons and this is how it all makes sense, I may not be there yet but I am well on my way. And I know that if I fail, I took my best shot and that I have no regrets. Period. The important thing is that I give in my all and stuck by my beliefs.

On dating

This is a bit confusing for me. Cause it dwells in the domain of relationships and I am not really… well lets just say that apart from the basics I’m not the person you would wanna come for dating advice. But having said that I have learned a lot this year. Don’t get me wrong though I don’t mean to say I am a player like that but I know now how bad I was at reading all those signs that women give out. The sort of advice your parents are too shy to talk about, your friends are too inexperienced to give and your girlfriend is too scandalized to reveal. The best dating advice I’ve gotten so far has been from my housemates and a very special female friend (read: What do you remember of your time on Earth?) And you know my conclusion? And this is something not many people will tell you because usually you need to figure this out on your own about women; they are just like us mate, they have their needs just like you and me, the trick is to make it all happen when she is at sync with you. You will understand this when the time comes :-). Trust me. Also just let things take their natural course never rush. Another lesson I learnt. One final lesson I learned about women after coming to the UK was that desi girls are just different from white chicks. They just are. There is no formula, there is no solution, I don’t mean to say one is tartier than the other, they are just different. Very different. At the end it comes down to you, who you chose to spend your time with. The person that accepts you in all your fallacies and who can put up with your eccentricities is the person you should give a serious thought too.