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Karachi Rain – Lessons to Gain

storm clouds...

Good old rainy ‘moonsoon’ or ‘MANsoon’ season courtesy the creative tongues of our media wallahs, is here again in Karachi. After a dry spell of several years and the last memorable drown-the-roads rain in 1992, we seem to be getting it all back again. While no animals or male species can be seen pouring from the heavens, the ones on the street are a sorry sight. Stranded on the roads, stuck in jams of their own making, the people of Karachi face their biggest friend turned enemy – water. The city infrastructure just can’t digest any more rain and there may just be a guttery Venice in the making.

Grumble or rumble, this is the Karachi of my childhood, the roads where I have steered that ‘kaghaz ki kishti’ (paper boat), splashed in puddles, got drenched in the rain and smelt the earth together with crispy fried goodies, heard the buzz in the air of happy sounds of laughter, shrieks of joy on spotting a rainbow in the sky and got stuck in HUGE adventures being stuck in the middle of water with open manholes dotting the way; not knowing which step would take me down under and these are the lessons I’ve learnt:

1. When it rains it pours, see one drop and run.

2. Necessity is the mother of all, if you don’t have a raincoat, wear a ‘shaaper’ (shopping bag) on your head.

3. All that is water, may not be water – watch your step!

4. Make hay while the sun shines, have a bath while it rains.

5. If someone splashes you from one side, splash him on the other.

6. When life gives you lemons make lemonade, when it gives you rain in Karachi, make pakoras, mosquito repellents and generators.

7. It doesn’t matter if you’re revealingly wet all over, all your ‘izzat’ (dignity) happens to be atop your head, which MUST be covered on a priority basis.

8. Look before you leap, you may just find an open manhole hidden beneath.

9. Every cloud has a silver lining, make sure your clothes do too!

10. Every dancer has her days, and sometimes they lead to rain.

11. Avoid air and water like the dengue, wear a tent!

12. There is water at the end of every tunnel, learn to swim!

Olympics Through the Ages

Legend has Heracles as the originator of the Ancient Olympics. It is said that after completing his famous ‘twelve labours’ he built the ‘stadion’ [greek] , ‘stadium [roman] or ‘stage’ [English] to honor his father Zeus – the father of
all gods. He walked a distance of 400 strides in a straight line and called this distance a stadion. This is why a modern stadium is 400 metres in circumference.

The first Olympic games began in Olympia in 776 B.C. with Koroibos, a cook from nearby Elis winning the 600 feet long stadion race. Literary records show the ‘stadion’ as the only athletic event for the first 13 Olympics until 724 B.C.

The Olympics can be divided into two main periods. The Ancient Olympics from 776 B.C. through 393 A.D. – a period spanning almost 1200 years and the Modern Olympics reinstated in Athens, Greece after 1503 years in 1896 A.D. which continue till the present day.

A total of only 23 events were contested in the Ancient Olympics. They were divided into:

  • Men’s track and field                                                 8
  • Equestrian                                                                   8
  • Boys track and field                                                   5
  • Speciality events for heralds and trumpeters      2


In these categories, the pentathlon for boys (628 B.C.) and the Apene (mule cart race – 500 B.C.) were discontinued in 628 B.C. and 444 B.C. respectively. A few other sports deemed to be of great interest in those days have not been reinstated in the Modern Olympics. These include the Hoplitodromos (race in armor – 520 B.C.), Calpe (race for mares – 496 B.C.), Synoris (two horse chariot race – 408 B.C.) competitions for heralds and trumpeters (396 B.C.) and the Pankration for boys (200 B.C.).

The Ancient Olympics reached their peak around 5 B.C. as important religious festivals with contests alternating with sacrifices and rites in honour of Zeus and Pelops – a mythical King of Olympia famed for his chariot racing. Held every 4 years, the period between 2 celebrations became known as an Olympiad – used by the Greeks to count years. As the Romans gained power in Greece, the Olympics declined in importance. Emperor Theodosius I finally outlawed the festival in 393 A.D. citing the pagan rituals and nudity of the athletes – stemming from the ‘celebration of the achievements of the human body’ – as being in discord with Christian ethics

The Modern Olympic Games are the brainchild of French Baron Pierre de Coubertin who was searching for a reason for the French defeat in the Franco – Prussian War and Greek philanthropist Evangelos Zappas. These are now International multi-sport events. They include a few games from the Ancient Olympics such as the Pentathlon and the Stadion (now simply called races), while several new ones have been added over the years. Rule 48.1 of the Olympic Charter requires a minimum of 15 sports in the Summer Olympics. The IOC decided to limit the games to a maximum of 28 sports, 301 events and 10,500 athletes from 2002.

The first International Olympic Committee (IOC) games in 1896 had 241 athletes from 14 nations. Nine sports were included: athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, weightlifting, shooting, swimming, tennis, and wrestling. The rowing event had to be cancelled due to bad weather.

The Summer Olympics used to feature figure skating and ice hockey before the beginning of the Winter Olympics. The recent 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy had 2633 athletes from 80 countries participating in 84 events in 7 sports. Within the sports of skiing and skating – cross country skiing, figure skating, ice
hockey, Nordic combined, ski jumping and speed skating events have featured
regularly at all Winter Olympics.

The Youth Olympic Games (YOG) is still being planned out after its approval in the IOC session in July 2007. It seems to be a reinstatement of the Boys events of the Ancient Olympics. The difference here is that both male and female athletes between ages 14 to 18 are envisioned to participate in games similar to their adult counterparts; the only difference being in duration with the summer version for 12 days and the winter version for 9 days.

Modern Olympics have seen changes in the inclusion criteria of sports. Rugby
was discontinued after the 1924 games wherein only 3 teams had participated.
Cricket met a similar fate to that of Rugby as IOC officials opined that Rugby and Cricket were too voluminous to fit into the already hectic timeframe of the Olympics. Baseball and softball will be discontinued from 2012 and there is speculation if games like the less popular modern pentathlon and the expensive white water canoeing would follow suit.  Rugby 7s, squash and karate were submitted for the 2012 games but got voted out.

Some demonstration sports exhibited by the host country till 1992 were later
included as full medal events. Recent additions in Olympic sports include
snowboarding and beach volleyball.

Some unusual sports in the Summer Olympics include:

  • Fencing is one of the only four sports found in all the Olympic Games.
  • Taekwondo was a demonstration sport at the 1988 and 1992 Summer Olympic Games, and became a medal sport at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia
  • Canoeing was a demonstration sport at the 1924 Paris Olympics with the USA winning all kayak events and Canada winning all canoeing events. It became an official sport in 1936
  • Synchronized swimming was introduced in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
  • Archery became an event in the Olympic Games in 1900 and was also featured in 1904, 1908 and 1920. Due to lack of international rules the sport was eliminated from the Olympic program until 1972 when it was reintroduced as outdoor target archery.
  • Equestrian’s Dressage was first in the Olympics in 1912 limited to military riders for the next 40 years. Now everyone can compete.
  • Water Polo was entered in the Olympics of 1900 with Britain and Belgium as the only participants. Women’s water polo was later introduced in the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

The winter specialities that are relatively recent and unusual include:

Winter Olympic Games.

  • The Snowboarding: the IOC decided to make it official in 1994 and it made its appearance at the 1998Nagano,Japan Winter Olympic games.
  • The Biathlon; combining cross country skiing with shooting with a 30 km relay was added in 1968. The 10 km sprint was added in 1980 and finally the women’s event in the biathlon was added in 1992
  • Luge races that involved sleds were part of the Olympics in 1964 in Innsbruck, Austria.

The Beijing 2008 Olympics featured a total of 302 events in 28 sports. The major events included judo, modern pentathlon, archery, athletics, baseball, basketball,
boxing, canoe/kayak flatwater, canoe/ kayak slalom, equestrian, fencing, football, gymnastics artistic, gymnastics rhythmic, gymnastics trampoline, rowing, sailing, shooting, hockey, handball, badminton, shooting, softball, swimming, diving, synchronised swimming,  table tennis, taekwondo, triathlon,
volleyball, beach volleyball, weightlifting, and water polo.

26 sports have been included in the programme for the London 2012 Olympics.

Gold fishing…

Keeping pets is a delightful experience but there are many who wince at the thought of maintaining one. For such fussy types, the gold fish is one creature, which, with very little care, can give years of endless pleasure to its owners. (not to mention, assuage the feelings of children clamouring for a pet of their own!) Though the common goldfish, a native of china, is considered quite hardy, and can have a lifespan of up to ten years, this is only possible if adequate attention is given. Hopefully, the following tips will help you give adequate attention to your “water – buddies”

1 No matter how attractive the classic goldfish bowl might look, your growing goldfish undoubtedly needs more space. A rectangular fish tank is the best options it provides a larger surface area and is much easier to clean.

2 Ideally the water should be changed every week. Tap water has chemicals which can be dissipated by letting the tap run for a moment before taking water and then by letting that water sit out for a day.

3 A hood or a similar covering for the tank stops fish from jumping out and keeps dirt from getting in.

4 Decorations, especially those with sharp edges, should be minimized. However, goldfish love hiding places they can swim into.

5 Remember that goldfish have no eyelids, so lights in the fish tank should preferably be removed. At night the tank can be partly covered to allow the fish to sleep.

6 Gravel superbly serves the dual purposes of a breeding ground for useful bacteria plus a hunting ground of leftovers for the fish. Just be careful that the gravel you get is not dyed, as in some cases it might prove fatal. If you don’t have a choice, then rinse it out!

7 Leftover bits of food should not be left floating on the surface, as they start harboring harmful bacteria if not finished the same day.

8 Last but not the least, do not confine your fish to a solitary existence – two goldfish will be much happier together than one. Most people rightly believe that the level of interaction with fishes is less than that of other pets. Still, the goldfish is known to recognize the person who brings its food. It will show this by happily splashing in the water and darting towards the side that person is standing!

In Search of House ‘Perfect’!

Most of us have planned goals in life… and quite often the adult vision is incomplete without that house of one’s dreams where the family lives happily ever after. However, the hasty plunge
into turbulent land markets can prove disastrous both financially and physically.

Lets take a look at some emotional decisions regarding houses and how they can be avoided:

  1. The vision of loveliness: This house has a façade that seems to pop up right out of a
    magazine. You may have fallen in love at first sight but look closely at the details for any structural flaws or cumbersome planning details, which make the interiors a bother rather than a delight. After all, the interior is where you will be.
  2. The ideal location: The house may be placed on a main road and facing west for maximum breeze but think well if other factors related to it are to your liking. Keep in mind too, that main roads are noisier than lanes.
  3. Resale value: Don’t get carried away if your agent is telling you it can be sold for double the amount after a few months. Do you really want to go through the hassle of selling and buying again?
  4. Several bedrooms: The number of bedrooms present in the house may tempt you.  Yet, do you really need them? With a small family, this can prove to be a burden
    instead of an asset.
  5. Lawn area: That large lawn may bring forth visions of garden parties, barbeques; play area for the children and so forth. However, if you are the type who only entertains once a year, then the roominess of a drawing room is much more advisable.
  6. The view outside: It may be that you can see the whole city from where your dream
    house is located or you can see a magnificent scene, but think again. How much time are you likely to spend in your balcony or on the roof in any case? If your house is at a height, you may experience water problems as well.


By following your head rather than your heart, you may let reason triumph over emotion and instead of being saddled with a white elephant, buy something truly consistent with your needs and make your house, a sweet home.

* Image courtesy,r:9,s:126&biw=1093&bih=466

Mars Calling!

Female figure or an oddly shaped rock?

Red is not a colour one associates with the idea of ‘life’. Yet, ‘the red planet’ Mars, has fired up Earthly imaginations on more than one occasion.

The 25th May 2008 touchdown by the NASA Phoenix Mars Lander and the subsequent findings
by the robotic arm did just that. Scoops of whitish matter at the landing site raised speculations ranging from assumptions of an ice table to those about a plain salt layer. This discovery came as the latest hope in a series of expeditions to Mars over the past decades. While data from past missions has not exactly supported provisions for life on Mars, it has been much more difficult to disprove any considerations of the same.

This June 2011, NASA’s Aquarius in conjunction with the ‘age of Aquarius’ will begin its journey to Mars in search of ocean salinity data. This is believed to be vital information for scientists on Earth here trying to put together the climatic puzzle for our home planet. The concentration of salt coupled with cold surface water makes it dense, keeps it together and determines the world’s oceanic currents – important for climatic conditions around the world.

The question of life on Mars has haunted famous authors of yore. H. G. Wells in 1898 earlier
added to the brouhaha in the dark ‘The War of the Worlds’, with his depiction of a superior race and their invasion of the Earth. The author of ‘Tarzan’, Edgar Rice Burroughs in the 1900s came up with his own version of the Martians – the Barsoom and their adventures; depicting the Barsoomians as a tough nation trying to survive the perils of a harsh climate.

Throughout history, Mars has been in focus as ‘the harbinger of death’ – the god of War,  or simply as an astronomical delight of the night sky. Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli in 1877, using his telescope, produced the first map of the terrain, complete with a system of ‘canali’ or channels, later mistranslated as ‘canals’. This seemed to have an effect on the active imagination of Percival Lowell, an American businessman with an astronomical bent of mind, who in 1910 ended up writing a book, Mars As the Abode of Life. He moved public sympathy by his stirring account of a dying civilization of Martians who had constructed canals to distribute water from the poles to the equator.

The public and even some astronomers started believing in Lowell’s theory till it was formally
disproved by NASA’s flyby Mariner 4, 6 and 7 missions in the 1960s and the Viking Orbiter images that showed no such ‘canals’.

However canyons could be seen along with evidence of running water sometime in the past. So was there a possibility that life would exist on Mars or that it had at some point in the past actually existed there? In an atmosphere filled with almost pure carbon dioxide, the former or even the latter assumption seemed hardly likely… until an analysis of Martian soil made astronomers think again… thanks to the Viking Lander which in 1976 approached Mars with the intention of taking in samples and conducting experiments to determine this. The results simply showed that life on Mars was a remote possibility. However organic compounds were
present as they are in most cases in the Universe.

The meteorite ALH84001 found in 1986 in the Allan  Hills region of Antarctica is the oldest of  the twelve meteorites believed to have come from Mars. On 16th August 1996, David McKay et al of NASA’s Johnson Space Centre announced that the meteorite contained signs of primitive
bacterial life on Mars. The next supposed breakthrough came when the Odyssey spacecraft detected subsurface water in 2002. Spirit – NASA’s explorer vehicle probe in 2005 sent back photos of the uninhabitable terrain. Looking closely at the wasteland, observers got a shock as they found they were looking at what seemed to be a female figure perched on a rock. Many dismissed it as an illusion of the landscape while still others say it is hard to find another  such oddly shaped ‘rock’.

Future mission plans include scouting missions on Mars with the next being targeted for launch in 2013. This will increase the number of sites visited and may lead to new discoveries.

Mars remains the planet with the most hospitable environment in the solar system after our
Earth. Whether or not we Earthlings manage to find any glimmer of a Martian microbe or a full grown alien, we may safely assume that even if at present the chances of life there are remote; at some point in future they may easily become all too real.

* A short version of this article has earlier been published in the box features in Daily Dawn Newspaper, Pakistan

Image courtesy:

Building for Safety

By Kiran Bashir Ahmad using information provided by Prof. Kausar Bashir Ahmad

The recent earthquakes and floods are an eye opener for the general public to wake up to the dangers of building with carelessness. The local authorities, designers, architects, builders and developers need to actively ensure safety in building design and construction and implement important measures before any type of calamity strikes, from tremors to earthquakes, floods, typhoons or even fire.

1) The Local Authority must formulate and implement bylaws and insist on carrying out necessary soil testing to check the load bearing capacity at site, perform quality check of material and workmanship according to weather conditions at the time of construction.
2) People should demand adoption and incorporation of all the earthquake proof measures from their architects and builders.
3) As professionals the architects and engineers should abide by the provisions of necessary byelaws e.g. the rules for an open fire escape in buildings, staircases at proper distances, and the zoning byelaw, which has a height restriction according to the load bearing capacity of the soil. Flagrancy of the byelaws by payment of fine and regularization of the number of additional floors could lead to unmitigated disaster.
4) The building team must ensure the use of proper quality materials including fresh cement and steel bars, as per building regulations.
5) The architects, structural engineers and designers must use necessary measures such as earthquake friendly grid pattern designs for structural stability and shear walls etc.

For a layman, the following checks are important.

1) Remind your designers and builders to take the aforementioned necessary measures at the initial level of construction.
2) Even though you may not have technical knowledge, your insistence shall ultimately create right conditions and proper implementation of safety measures.
3) Some common concepts to understand are

 Any masonry work without Mortar (joining plaster) is of potential danger.
 RCC (reinforced cement concrete) needs a ‘solid frame’ system with right size of columns and beams, proper foundation depths for use of raft slabs or pile foundations etc.
 If the ground conditions warrant, the single most important aspect of failures against the disaster, may be because of faulty construction techniques and poor quality of building materials, especially the cement and steel bars.
 In case of high plazas, the designer has to ensure provision of devices like Shear walls, etc., to ensure structural behaviour of buildings.
 Engineers and architects tend to over-design on the pretext of or due to clients’ demands. Know that giving minimum acceptable sizes of structure to avoid cracks in beams and buckling of columns can lessen the weight of the structure.