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The art of the possible

Updated May 26, 2013
MQM chief Altaf Hussain.—File Photo
MQM chief Altaf Hussain.—File Photo

JK Rowling reigns supreme as the creator of Harry Potter, the boy with a magic wand. She is perhaps the first author to win a slot in the exclusive billionaire’s club. A single mother living on dole persevered with her storyline of good versus evil. Like a sorceress, she rolled out her action-packed thrillers, one after another until she hit the lucky number seven. When finally Harry Potter defeated malevolent forces, Rowling called it a day.

Fiction she wrote, but the journey of her protagonist’s struggle swept the readers — young and old across the globe — into realms of the possible. Art has many genres and Pakistan prides in its literary giants whose works survive from beyond the grave. Yet, few leave behind footprints of original thought, deep enquiry, problem solving, holistic works that shine a spotlight on society’s infernal problems of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Yes, academic researches on all-important issues do exist, yet neither an outstanding theorist nor a brilliant practitioner be. We have scores of PhDs and erudite professors, but rarely have their works given us the ‘ah ha’ moment grabbing our gut.

With imagination laced with dollops of creativity and ‘can-do’ spirit, it’s now time for Pakistanis to turn the word ‘change’ from a worn-out, threadbare cliché into physical reality. You don’t need a hefty tranche from IMF to set right what has willfully been allowed to rot all around. Nor do you need to import fat cat consultants from abroad to teach you how to live your lives.

Pakistan has missed the bus many times. Seizing the moment, it could have bottled the boundless energy of its people whose hearts and minds electrify in unison when game changers like a cricket match with India or hope of ‘Mr Clean’ descend upon them.

Think, a new government, a new prime minister and a ‘new’ Pakistan. So why should we not have new rules of conduct in our personal and public lives? Why should we not focus on civic engagement? We convinced ourselves that Imran Khan was the key to ‘change’. He’d simply have to say ‘abracadabra’ and things would miraculously fall into place. People around him would marvelously change for the better.

Instead of waiting to be led, the call of the moment is citizen activism. Wondrous it was recently when thousands around the world called up the London Metropolitan police to complain against Altaf Hussain’s claptrap on secession. In the past, such loose talk would perhaps not even warrant a response. Not so today! An unprecendented public concern made the MQM chief clarify his statement and fall ill. The hesitant media on the other hand didn’t react, as it should have when he attacked it with offensive language. But for one or two Islamabad-based journalists, the rest chose silence.

Change, real, palpable and demonstrable can only happen if the 180 million feel they have a stake in their country. Why must they wait for the Sharifs, Zardaris/Bhuttos, Imran Khans, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rahmans or Justice Iftikhar Chaudhrys to take them up the garden path laden with roses? Why not make your own garden? The way Steve Jobs did.

He started out by tinkering with the Apple computer in his parents’ garage way back in 1976. When he died in October 2011, the son of a Syrian immigrant and unmarried American mother (the couple gave him up for adoption) had built it into the world’s most valuable company. The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs is a must read for all. It took his biographer Walter Isaacson years of research including lengthy sessions with the ailing Jobs as cancer ravaged his body and death lay waiting. The man who transformed personal computing, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, retail stores and digital publishing had one simple assert at his disposal: his creativity.

“The essence of Jobs, I think, is that his personality was integral to his way of doing business. He acted as if the normal rules didn’t apply to him, and the passion, intensity, and extreme emotionalism he brought to everyday life were things he also poured into the products he made,” writes Isaacson.

Jobs is quoted as saying: “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.”

Does this epigram make any sense?

If only Pakistan’s policymakers and decision takers had followed this one single principle doggedly. Valuable resources — human, financial and natural — would not have borne failed schemes and worthless results by each government that we suffered including the last. Many CEOs including Google’s Larry Page came to borrow wisdom from Jobs before his death. He advised Page to first figure out where he wanted to take Google and then put all his focus on just that “What are the five products you want to focus on?” Jobs asked his competitor Page. “Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down. They’re turning you into Microsoft. They’re causing you to turn out products that are adequate but not great.”

Another gem to embrace from Steve Jobs is simplify your needs, wishes and life. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” remained Apple’s hallmark introduced by its inventor. “It takes a lot of hard work,” he said, “to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.”

Does one need to be a control freak to get the best results? Probably. Many co-workers and subordinates didn’t have good words for the genius Job. But perfection comes with a price. Those who didn’t perform according to the tough standards set by the Apple virtuoso ended up getting the rough end of the stick from him.

Citizen activism if applied with imagination can snowball into something sustainable. Start with small things like good behaviour on the roads. The best helicopter view of a society is how people ply their four wheelers, three wheelers and two wheelers on public roads. The SUVs behave as though the roads belong to them. They are disdainful of smaller cars. They literally ramrod their way — honking, tailgating and flashing lights until the driver of the small car gets out of the SUV’s way. Good for you if you drive an SUV but don’t behave like a yahoo.

Equally slick are the drivers of the smaller cars — they’ll sneak upon you from behind and muscle their way through breaking lanes and weaving in and out to outpace everyone. As for the motor bike riders, they perform hair raising feats turning right, left and centre without caring to indicate. It’s the motorist’s job to anticipate which way they’ll turn.

Why is there not a law that mandates mirrors on both sides of the motorbike bar? It can save lives, prevent people’s blood pressure from shooting up in a close shave between the biker and the motorist. The law on helmet wearing is enforced strictly, why not mirrors?

Imagination, creativity and vision at every level by every individual are the only drivers of change. The rest is just idle talk.

“Citizenship is not always grand and soaring, but involves daily, ordinary actions of maintenance. We should be inspired, but inspired by the common institutions that make democracy work”, says a wise man.