“One Cruel Poem” – a Pakistani immigrant thinks out aloud

August 24, 2010

One of my favorite websites, Pakistaniat (where I had the honor of being an editor during its initial years), posted this wonderful poem. It is recited in Urdu and I wish I could translate it here. Maybe I will when I get a little more time. The author of the post aptly calls it “Ek Zalim Nazm“, meaning “One Cruel Poem“. It is intended for the immigrant Pakistani population, questioning their judgment in leaving their country behind to search for better opportunities, but more importantly for not returning back as they promised when they left the country. This comes at an interesting time for Pakistani immigrants in the US who are observing the tragic flood situation in Pakistan but finding themselves unable to do enough to help the people there.

I am one of those immigrants. I left my home country 15 years ago in search of a better education, and hopefully an opportunity to make something of myself before I returned to my country. I had no idea that 15 years later, I would still be in my host country, in fact a country that I now call home and am a proud citizen of. What happened to promises I made to myself and to my family – as non-verbal as they may have been – to return to my country to make it a better place not just for myself but for all others that I know, love, and care for. I won’t use this space to spell out the many reasons why I haven’t gone back to live in Pakistan – many of them have to do with my personal and professional circumstances. But yes, it is a promise that I did renege on, at least for the time being, and certainly not one I can be proud of.

My country of origin and my birthplace can probably use me for more good than the country that has been so gracious to make me its own. Over the past 15 years I have tried to not just keep my ties alive, but have also tried to contribute in small little ways. I continue to search for opportunities to be involved, to be a part of the change that a new generation of Pakistanis are trying to bring about despite absolutely horrendous hurdles before them. I have tried to be a part of non-profit organizations, written policy white papers, worked with the government in its reform efforts, volunteered time to the founding of a research institution, donated money, and advised/guided students and others….but there really is so much more I could potentially do if I was there in person.

Last night I had dinner with a friend who left an extremely lucrative Wall Street career to go back to Pakistan. In preparation for his return he completed a part-time law degree (despite a hectic investment banking job), and upon returning founded a 3-partner law firm to focus on constitutional and civil law in Pakistan. In a brief 2 year period he has fought constitutional cases on behalf of the provincial government against the federal government to uphold democratic institutions, brought a very senior ranking bureaucratic official to justice for taking law in his own hands, helped find release of countless poor villagers who could not pay for lawyers to fight their cases, and has filed lawsuits on behalf of many villagers who were being bullied by the local landlords. He told me passionately that when he worked days and nights on M&A transactions for his Fortune 100 client, the only motivation was his bonus at the end of the year – so how could he even try to compare that silly reward to what he gets now: gratification that is sincere and obviously goes beyond his income – a poor woman’s tears when his son is freed from jail, a young man’s joy when he gets his land back, and an appreciation from everyone around that he is helping building the country one court case at a time. He is back in the US for 1 year to do his LLM. He is not interested in coursework that most others in his class would follow to get lucrative careers in the US – but he wants to study the history of jurisprudence, theory of law, civil rights, and democracy so he can go back and build his practice stronger. His court cases continue and his associates continue to represent his clients.

My intention was not to be melodramatic about my losses and his wins. But to highlight (a) the responsibility that all of us Americans, but especially immigrants, have towards people who are in need of our skills and our resources, and the value we can bring by just adjusting our schedules slightly to commit a little more time towards helping build our native countries, and (b) the great work that a young, committed, brave generation is doing in Pakistan. I am motivated to do even more going forward, to make more of my resources available. That, I believe, is also a very American thing to do.

Now, for the poem:


Miles to go before I sleep….

April 14, 2010

My good friend Adil brought this to my attention via his blog pakistaniat.com. It is a TV advertisement for a mobile phone company in Pakistan. But that is probably the least of what it is. It totally rocked my world. I have heard over and over again for the past hour or so. And I can’t seem to stop. The song, the video, the story has such a strong message – for people like me who left their country of birth in search of a better future, but who have so much they still owe to the country and people they left behind.

I am also reminded of my favorite poem (by Robert Frost):

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

also “still trying to figure out what to make of it. As a song. As a video. As message. As an advertisement.” But I know what it is asking of me…from so many of us. I am reminded of my favorite poem by Robert Frost:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

Tech Crunch: “What’s Better: Saving the World or Building Another Facebook app?”

February 14, 2010

Vivek Wadhwa just published an interesting article in TechCrunch discussing what our scientists and engineers could be focusing on. I highly recommend others to read it as well…I hope it will be inspiring to students at our colleges/universities who have the passion to change the world.

In a couple of hours I will be speaking to a large group of Chinese & Chinese-Americans who have gathered to celebrate the Chinese New Year (Happy year of the Tiger!), and my message will be: Think BIG. Life is too short to nibble at the edges of innovation. There are billions of people in this world who would not only benefit from our innovations, but would also be willing to pay a decent price to improve their lives.

There is a way. In 2008, Charles Vest, the president of the National Academy of Engineering brought together a group of prominent deans of engineering schools from around the country to create a list of Grand Challenges that can be solved by engineers, in our lifetime. These were in several broad realms of human concern — sustainability, health, vulnerability, and joy of living. Dr. Vest believed that “the world’s cadre of engineers will seek ways to put knowledge into practice to meet these grand challenges. Applying the rules of reason, the findings of science, the aesthetics of art, and the spark of creative imagination, engineers will continue the tradition of forging a better future”.

Here is the list of the 14 Grand Challenges the deans created:

  • Make solar energy economical
  • Provide energy from fusion
  • Develop carbon sequestration methods
  • Manage the nitrogen cycle
  • Provide access to clean water
  • Restore and improve urban infrastructure
  • Advance health informatics
  • Engineer better medicines
  • Reverse-engineer the brain
  • Prevent nuclear terror
  • Secure cyberspace
  • Enhance virtual reality
  • Advance personalized learning
  • Engineer the tools of scientific discovery

via What’s Better: Saving the World or Building Another Facebook app?.


A Step Beyond Human – Hugh Herr is building the world’s most advanced prosthetic foot

November 25, 2009

A fascinating story of courage, dedication, skill, and genius. Hugh Herr is an inspirational guy…and we, at General Catalyst, are so proud to be a part of his journey.

A Step Beyond Human

Andy Greenberg
Forbes Magazine dated December 14, 2009

MIT professor and double amputee Hugh Herr is building the world’s most advanced prosthetic foot.

On his way to a lunch meeting a few years ago Hugh Herr was running late. So he parked his Honda  Accord in a handicapped parking spot, sprang out of the car and jogged down the sidewalk. Within seconds a policeman called out, asking to see his disability permit. When Herr pointed it out on his dashboard, the cop eyed him suspiciously. “What’s your affliction?” he asked dryly. Herr, a slim and unassuming 6-footer with dark, neatly parted hair, took a step toward the officer and responded in an even tone: “I have no [expletive] legs.”

Blurring the boundaries of disability is a trick that Herr, director of the biomechatronics group at MIT’s Media Lab, has spent the last 27 years perfecting. At age 17 both of Herr’s legs were amputated 6 inches below the knee after a rock climbing trip ended in severe frostbite. Today he’s one of the world’s preeminent prosthetics experts. His goal: to build artificial limbs that are superior to natural ones. His favorite test subject: himself. “I like to say that there are no disabled people,” says Herr, 45. “Only disabled technology.”

Read more at the link below.

via A Step Beyond Human – Forbes.com.


NY Times: Branded a radical by hate-groups, a Muslim educator loses her school

April 28, 2008

Apalling…..When something like this happens, we all suffer. Americans, Jews, Muslims, Christians…Everyone.

From The New York Times

April 28, 2008

Battle in Brooklyn | A Principal’s Rise and Fall

Critics Cost Muslim Educator Her Dream School


Debbie Almontaser dreamed of starting a public school like no other in New York City. Children of Arab descent would join students of other ethnicities, learning Arabic together. By graduation, they would be fluent in the language and groomed for the country’s elite colleges. They would be ready, in Ms. Almontaser’s words, to become “ambassadors of peace and hope.”

Things have not gone according to plan. Only one-fifth of the 60 students at the Khalil Gibran International Academy are Arab-American. Since the school opened in Brooklyn last fall, children have been suspended for carrying weapons, repeatedly gotten into fights and taunted an Arabic teacher by calling her a “terrorist,” staff members and students said in interviews.

The academy’s troubles reach well beyond its cramped corridors in Boerum Hill. The school’s creation provoked a controversy so incendiary that Ms. Almontaser stepped down as the founding principal just weeks before classes began last September. Ms. Almontaser, a teacher by training and an activist who had carefully built ties with Christians and Jews, said she was forced to resign by the mayor’s office following a campaign that pitted her against a chorus of critics who claimed she had a militant Islamic agenda.

In newspaper articles and Internet postings, on television and talk radio, Ms. Almontaser was branded a “radical,” a “jihadist” and a “9/11 denier.” She stood accused of harboring unpatriotic leanings and of secretly planning to proselytize her students. Despite Ms. Almontaser’s longstanding reputation as a Muslim moderate, her critics quickly succeeded in recasting her image.

The conflict tapped into a well of post-9/11 anxieties. But Ms. Almontaser’s downfall was not merely the result of a spontaneous outcry by concerned parents and neighborhood activists. It was also the work of a growing and organized movement to stop Muslim citizens who are seeking an expanded role in American public life. The fight against the school, participants in the effort say, was only an early skirmish in a broader, national struggle.

Read the rest of this entry »


Earthquake in Pakistan: 2nd anniversary

October 9, 2007

It is the 2nd anniversary of the terrible earthquake that hit the northern areas of Pakistan. Much has been said about the earthquake, the lack of warning systems, the tragedy that struck victims living in poorly constructed homes, and the chaos after the quake that left many homeless and in desperate need of external intervention.

I recount below what ATP posted exactly one year ago in terms of the devastation that was caused by this massive earthquake. There is no other point in recounting this human tragedy but to remember and reinforce the necessity that the victims still need help. International aid agencies have all but left the region and the rebuilding effort is slow, plagued with charges of corruption, and philanthropic efforts slowing down.

But then I see the photo above (originally posted on ATP) and I think it says it all. The pain, the need, and the hope in her eyes. As a human being and as a fellow Pakistani, she deserves more than we as a community have been able to do so far. So the only thing I can do is to ask you to give more, and to give such that it reaches people like her quickly and efficiently.

Total dead in Earthquake = 80,000 – 90,000
Estimated proportion of children amongst dead = 80 percent
Estimated houses destroyed = 400,000
Early recovery assistance pledged by international donors = US$ 255 Million
Early recovery pledges that have NOT been received yet = US$ 94 Million
Original estimate of long-term reconstruction costs = US$ 3.6 Billion
Current (updated) estimate of long-term reconstruction costs = US$ 4.4 Billion
Current estimated shortfall = US$ 800 Million
Total displaced by Earthquake = 3,500,000
Affectees still living in tents in camps = 35,000 – 40,000
At-risk families without permanent shelter = 60,000 – 100,000
Additional people who might need shelter this winter = 30,000 – 60,000


Google’s massive solar complex and other clean-tech initiatives

June 23, 2007

google-solar.jpgThere has been much written already about the corporate environmental leadership that Google has shown. And in his world where such leadership is almost always left wanting, it has to be complimented. Not only has Google been a part of sponsoring several cleantech initiatives especially through its Google Foundation, its founders (role-models for many) drive fuel efficient hybrids and have set clear directives for its employees to adopt more ‘green’ lifestyles.

And now the most visible display of Google’s environment-consciousness has been revealed. It is the most massive, largest corporate installation of solar panels at its Googleplex headquarters in Mountainview, CA. The majority of the solar panels (around 9212 to be exact) have been installed atop rooftops of the Googleplex and the remaining on top of the newly constructed parking Garages which also provide cords for plug-in electric vehicles. The photovoltaic solar panels have been designed and installed by a company called EI solutions, a remarkable feat in under 9 months.

The total installed capacity of this solar grid is 1.6MW. That is a big number! In one day the system generated 9,468 kilowatt-hours of electricity. This is enough electricity to power 83,000 hours of flat-screen TV viewing each day (see live Google stats on this solar installation). Google expects to save more than $393,000 annually in energy costs—or close to $15 million over the 30-year lifespan of its solar system. At this rate, the system should be able to pay for itself in roughly 7-8 years.

This is not the only way in which Google has taken a leadership stance in promoting clean energy and resource efficiency. It is already famous for having probably the largest employee density of people driving hybrid vehicles. Dr. Larry Brilliant, head of Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google, has already announced the search engine company’s new Recharge It program—a Google.org initiative that aims to reduce CO2 emissions, cut oil use and stabilize the electrical grid by accelerating the adoption of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. It is estimated that commercial plug-in hybrids will be able to go ~40miles without any fuel use, which might be plenty for weekday commuting to work for most people. The gas engine will, in that case, act as a backup in case a longer trip has to be taken.

According to a news article, Google has been offering a $5,000 rebate to employees who purchase a vehicle that gets over 45 miles per gallon. That is wonderful. Nothing better than a direct cash incentive program. Hybrids, and especially the plug-in hybrids would get there. But so will diesel. In fact, with such a rebate from the employer a diesel powered vehicle would actually be cheaper than buying an ordinary low mpg gasoline car. Remember my note earlier than Honda is introducing a diesel car in the US that will get roughly 62.8mpg? Honda is not the only company introducing high fuel efficient diesel models in the US. Trust me that for long distance commutes, clean diesel powered cars will be more fuel efficient than a plug-in or gas-hybrid. The only thing sexier would be a diesel-hybrid! Now that’s what I am waiting for….