The Cost of a National Holiday

Nusrat Bhutto, the wife/mother/mother-in-law/grandmother of our past/present/future rulers passed away in Dubai yesterday, and an unexpected national day of mourning with a national holiday was announced in Pakistan immediately by the ruling party. I am not really knowledgeable about her sacrifices for democracy in Pakistan but I am concerned about the impact that an unofficial holiday has on Pakistan, as thousands of lives were affected by this holiday, including mine. My son had an exam today and was up preparing for it till late night, while I had a meeting with the Abbottabad Commission in Islamabad in the morning, and had rescheduled my work routine around the trip to Islamabad. Both were postponed due to the holiday.

With all the free time on my hands today, I have been estimating the impact this holiday had on my country, and here is my guesstimate:

The official population of Pakistan is around 160,000,000 – assuming that ten percent of the population did not work today due to the holiday, that is 16,000,000 man-days of work.

If a person works for 250 days per year, that is 64000 man-years.

Assuming an average person’s professional career spans 80 years (though I think it is closer to 40), this translates to 800 life-times of lost work.

In other words, it would take 800 people their entire lifespans to make up for the work that was not done due to today’s holiday.

I hope my math is wrong, but I do believe that there are better ways to recognize a deceased person’s contributions to a country – ones that do not deprive the same country of 800 lifetimes of work.


Just out of curiosity…

The answer choices have been compiled from the various ways that I saw fellow Pakistanis around me celebrating the independence day today – both online and offline.
Please spend a few seconds of your precious time to answer the question below. I will share the results’ summary whenever I am able to.

P.S. #Pakistan #PakistanZindabad

The old lady and the child

Of the dozens of stories that I have heard from the neighbors of the compound that was attacked in Abbottabad, this is the one that keeps resurfacing in my mind.

The old lady’s family moved to Bilal Town five or six years ago. She told me that in all those years, she never encountered any woman or child from the group living in the compound – until the day she met the small boy in 2011.

The people (or families) living in the compound did not buy fresh milk themselves, but asked the milkman to leave it in a neighboring house. From the neighboring house, one of the two men that did all the shopping would pick up the milk bucket and take it inside the compound. One day, the lady was visiting the house where the milk was delivered, where she saw a seven or eight year old boy trying to pick up the milk bucket. She recalled that the boy was ‘tiny and beautiful’. She asked him (in Pashto) what he was trying to do, he told her that he was there to fetch the milk. She asked him if he could lift the bucket. The boy told her that it was too heavy. The seventy or so year old lady picked the bucket of milk and helped the child carry it to the gate of the compound. After telling me this story, she started a monologue, wondering what might have happened to the boy who no different than her own grandchildren, and hoping that he was alright.

I don’t know if the child was Osama’s son or even related to him, but for her sake, I too hope that the boy was amongst the children that were found outside the compound, hands bound, after the raid. I hope that the stateless boy is not exploited by the governments, madrasas, social workers or other types of vultures that are trying to benefit from his misfortune. I hope that in the years to come, the child is not punished just because of his association with Osama Bin Laden – and I hope that he grows up to be a normal human being – as normal as possible given the unusual circumstances that he had to live through during the first seven years of his existence.

The Abbottabad you don’t get to see

Medical Students in Abbottabad
Medical Students in Abbottabad

With their American accents and attitudes, you will not be able to single out these three guys from the rest if they were sitting in a coffee shop in California (an airport queue is a different matter though). They have spent a significant part of their lives in the US or the UK, and probably came back to Pakistan to attend medical school – a cheap and logical option for many. The low tuition fees means that don’t need to take out student loans, and affiliations of the Pakistani medical schools with American and British medical schools means these students can usually get a transfer in the last few semesters – or, leave for specialization elsewhere. They are just three of the many regular patrons of Coffity (or ‘the coffee shop’ as I tend to call it), the small coffee shop that I started in Abbottabad after craving for a few months for real espresso shots. Every few days, I am pleasantly surprised to see the diversity of the people that live in Abbottabad and visit the coffee shop.

Five days after the Operation Geronimo, I had a little chat with these students and asked them about the impact that the OBL incident has had on their lives. The response was the ‘nobody really cares’ that I already expected, but when I asked if any of the dozens of international journalists had approached them and covered their campus life (colleges and universities cover a significant portion of the Abbottabad real estate), the answer was a surprising ‘No’. To loosely quote them, the journalists were more interested in getting to the 600 odd anti-American protestors that gathered after the friday prayers to chant and shout their hearts out against the American invasions, than they were to cover the everyday life that was barely disrupted by this incident. These students also wanted to share their opinion about OBL and how their lives have (not) changed at all, but they were never given a chance to do that, despite being part of an important segment of the Abbottabad population – students. People may not know this, but Abbottabad is more an academic town than it is a military town – even the PMA is an ‘Academy’.


I do understand that menacing shots (from a few inches below their chins, just to get as much of the beards as possible) of open-mouthed, bearded protestors wearing caps is always good raw material for interesting news, but our media should realize that they usually also have Arab (yes, you heard me right, Arab!) students studying in these medical colleges, along with dozens, if not hundreds, of Afghan students.

So if you are an international journalist who is still in Abbottabad and waiting for the demolition of ‘the compound’, do try to go and visit AMC, FMC and any other *MC in Abbottabad and talk to a few students. Their worldview might be slightly different from that of an average Pakistani stereo-type, and their accents may be too American (or British) to mark them as a Pakistani when they open their mouths, but who knows, what they have to say might actually be newsworthy to some people – people who are tired of watching beards and banners all the time.