NEDians Convention 2007
By Ali Hasan Cemendtaur

Riaz Haq, President, NED Alumni Association of Silicon Valley, addresses the Convention

It is said there is a maximum of six degrees of separation between any two human beings of this world: take two individuals at opposite sides of the globe, there would be a maximum of six people through which these two human beings would be acquainted to each other. At the NEDians Convention 2007 held in Silicon Valley the degree of separation was at most two. Even with the oldest graduate from 1965 and the youngest from 2002, no two NEDians in that convention had to look for more than two contacts in between to personally know each other.
NEDians’ Convention 2007 held on Saturday, September 8, was an all-day program. Morning session, attended by over 150 people, mostly NED alumni, was held at TechMart in Santa Clara; evening program attended by close to 400 people was at Crowne Plaza Hotel in San Jose.
Riaz Haq, President of NED Alumni Association of Silicon Valley, opened up the proceedings of the convention by giving an introduction of the program and by acknowledging the sponsors of the event. NEDians Convention 2007 was third of such meetings of NED Alumni being held in North America. Moin Ahmed, a 1974 graduate, is credited with being the father of these annual events. Allegedly, the first NEDians’ convention was held in Houston in 2005; the second one took place in New Jersey in 2006. Unfortunately, not much was done to archive information on those two conventions and there is precious little about those events available on the Internet.
The keynote speaker for the morning session of NEDians Convention 2007 was Tanweer Alam Mallick, also known as Tanweer Alam Mohammadi. Mallick who graduated in 1981 gave a speech on "Return to Glory." In his speech Mallick portrayed NED University as a poor mother who was constantly raising children that were benefiting the world. But what were those children giving back to their mother, NED University? And Mallick’s question can be generalized for institutions of higher learning throughout the developing world. Those education al institutions and the countries they are situated in spend a lot of their resources to give the best education to their students at a minimal cost, only to later lose these bright and educated men and women to the West. Should the NED alumni be paying back to their alma mater in Pakistan through money? The answer to that question came later, in the evening keynote speech, and we will get to that in due course.
The first panel discussion, on the topic of "NED to Nasdaq", was moderated by Mohammad Asghar Aboobaker, a venture capitalist and a member of the steering committee of the NED Alumni Association of Silicon Valley. The panel was comprised of Raghib Hussain, CTO, Cavium Networks; Rashad Ali, CEO, FiiVeo Inc.; Ammar Hanafi, General Partner, Alloy Ventures; Idris Kothari, Cofounder, Vertical Systems; Rehan Jalil, CEO, Wichorus; and Amir-Ul-Islam, CEO, Jersey Precast. The panelists shared with the audience their experiences of entrepreneurship and building up companies from scratch.
The panel discussion was followed by a lunch break.


Two groups of NEDians at the Convention. In picture above, Dr Shamsul Haq, Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University, is seen second from left

On the convention’s resumption Rashid Ali Baig lead the panel on "NED: History and Heritage." Baig, a popular student leader of his time, was NED Student Union's president when this scribe joined the university. The ‘History and Heritage’ panel comprised of Sharif Ahmed, Executive Board Member, NED Alumni of Canada; Abul-Islam, CEO AI Engineering; Ali Ahmed Minai, Associate Professor, University of Cincinnati; Nadeem Hussain, past president NED Student Union; Akbar Yunus Ansari, past president NED Student Union; and Moin Ahmed, founder of NED Alumni Association of America.
Since a number of panelists were students of NED in the 80s the discussion was mainly focused on student politics of those days and how NED, and in general universities in Pakistan, became hotbeds of political activity and were later banned by Zia Ul Haq.
The next panel discussion was titled "Beyond Engineering." The discussion was moderated by Safwan Shah, a popular student leader and an extraordinary athlete and orator of his time. The panelists included writer, blogger, activist Sabahat Ashraf (ifaqeer); Arif Mansuri, President and Managing Editor Pakistan Link; Arif Gafur, a social and political activist; Nabiha Mauiyyedi, ex-President of International Organization of Pakistani Women Engineers (IOPWE), and the only woman speaker of the convention; Rashid Yousuf, a Certified Public Accountant; and Nadeem Moghal, an IT consultant.
The panelists talked about their beyond-engineering experiences and how in Pakistan parents only wish their children to become doctors or engineers -- young men and women with predispositions in other fields end up attending engineering and medical colleges. Not surprisingly many of Pakistan’s musicians, writers, and artists of other fields emerge out of those professional colleges.
The ‘Beyond Engineering’ panel concluded the morning session of the NEDians Convention 2007. A couple of hours later the program reconvened at Crowne Plaza Hotel in San Jose. In the evening session of the convention, a Pakistani dinner was followed by an awards ceremony. Everybody instrumental in making the convention a success was acknowledged and given an award.
Needless to say that a program of this scope does take a lot of effort from a number of people to make it successful. The preparations for this convention started earlier this year. The steering committee comprising of Riaz Haq, Asghar Aboobaker, Safwan Shah, Zoaib Rangwala, Farid Durrani, Sabahat Ashraf, Idris Kothari, Imran Qureshi and others met every Saturday. The NED Alumni Association of Silicon Valley, an entity not legally connected to NED Alumni Association of America, was incorporated in California. Efforts are underway to make it a non-profit organization.
Since childcare was provided in the evening session for the benefit of people bringing along their children, a program for children ran in parallel with the main program. Children were kept busy with a magic show and continuous screening of movies.
In the main program an awards ceremony was followed by the keynote speech given by Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, an eminent philosopher from Pakistan who organizers flew to the US for the convention. Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy spoke on the “Power of Ideas.” Given in a soothing soft tone, it was a brilliant speech that would make you fall madly in love with Hoodbhoy’s scholarship. Hoodbhoy started his speech making a strong connection with his audience. He described how as a 13-year old boy he would often visit NED’s old campus to seek advice from Electrical Engineering students on coils and motors Hoodbhoy would tinker with.
Pervez Hoodbhoy said that whereas ideas did not have any physical presence they were so powerful they could change the world. He told his mesmerized audience that the best universities encourage students to question everything. That in Pakistan the rising influence of a fallacious strain in Islam was narrowing the mental field where ideas can be entertained and questioned. With anecdotes Hoodbhoy described how blindly pouring money in higher education in Pakistan was proving to be the worst use of resources. That universities in Pakistan needed an intelligent use of the money.
You can listen to Hoodbhoy’s speech here:
http://www.jumpcut.com/view?id=E329704A615311DC9CE2000423CF3686
After Hoodbhoy received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his speech the stage was given to Shazia Mirza, a UK based comedienne.
Humor in most parts is about putting very serious things in a most unserious manner. These are the things that you either have great respect for, have strong reservations about, or are normally uncomfortable discussing in public. Consequently, humor banks on poking fun at religion, important government matters, and sexual mores and attitudes.
The War on Terror being the most serious stuff these days was understandably Shazia Mirza’s one domain of humor. There, she was original, brilliant, and very funny. She made the audience ride a laugh train that was not making any stops.
[My grandmother is on a wheelchair. She was stopped at an airport in the US. Looking at her in the wheelchair, they asked, “Did you do it yourself?”
They ask me why my mother walks five steps behind my father.
I say, because my father looks better from behind.
But these days women are walking five steps ahead of their husbands.
Because of the landmines.]
Pakistanis are definitely not at the forefront of sex-related-morality reevaluations. To state the obvious, Pakistanis are conservative in their attitudes towards sex. Comedians performing to Pakistani audiences are expected to pay attention to this little detail -- and especially comedians who are from the Pakistani ethnic group. But Shazia Mirza did not display that intelligence. At the NEDians’ Convention her jokes on sex were devoid of the subtlety and suavity this conservative community is used to in regards to sex-related humor. Though this aspect of Shazia’s comedy least bothered this scribe, some in the audience did object to her content and the organizers promptly informed Shazia about the objections; she was asked to “tone it down.” The way Mirza acted after this confrontation made it obvious she had come without a B plan. She appeared confused on where to go from there.
One short-phrased thought on Shazia Mirza’s performance that stayed with this correspondent was: one man not laughing. For, a big part of Shazia Mirza’s comedy on September 8 was grade-school humor: you pick one person from the group and make him/her the butt of the joke. Everybody laughs his heart out, everybody but the person everybody is laughing on. Perhaps this kind of humor displayed in comedy clubs to an intoxicated audience that is hell-bent on having a great time even at the expense of others, is OK but at the NED Alumni Convention it was a different story. In NED culture where social status of a student was determined by the time they had spent at the University — more senior being more worthy of respect — making fun of people on how they dressed or on how they physically appeared did not go well with many in the audience.
The third aspect of Shazia Mirza’s comedy that was most problematic to this correspondent was a hint of snobbery in her dealing with the audience. Maybe we were seeing her UK-based understanding of her own ethnic group: people who have learned to amass wealth, but otherwise are not too educated. This hint of disdain was obvious in her opening note [that whereas she had been asked to tone down her content she believed she should be giving Pakistanis what she gives to her “White” audience -- as if what she gives to her “White” audience is the premier class stuff, and toning down the act would be like giving a second class product to Pakistanis, who, whereas are second-class people still deserve premier stuff] or her questions meant to size up audience’s cultural refinement [for example, if the audience knew about ‘Vagina Monologues']. It might very well be that some of the Pakistanis are not too much into off-Broadway shows, or operas, or NY Times bestsellers, but they definitely don’t need a comedienne from Europe to tell them that.
Shazia Mirza’s comedy was followed by a musical show featuring California based artists including Asif Haq (an NEDian), Dr. Seema Minhaj, Shaiq Chishty, Nadeem Wali Mohammad, Manesh Judge, and Noor Lodhi aka Shonu. The evening program ended after a second stint from Shazia Mirza.
With continuous media coverage leading up to the event, a blog initiated to dissipate information related to the convention, conference proceedings broadcasted live over the Internet, goodie bags for attendees with nifty brochures, commemorative coffee mugs, etc., NEDians convention 2007 has certainly set high standards for future NED alumni meetings to come. Let us hope Convention 2008, the venue of which has not been announced yet, proves to be an even bigger event, and that such conventions do ultimately end up benefiting the institution the name of which these programs are capitalizing on.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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