‘Pak Founders Celebration’ Brings out the Best in Silicon Valley
By Amjad Noorani
An annual tradition which started as the brainchild of an expatriate loyalist in Silicon Valley has rapidly matured as an enjoyable and wholesome family event – with the promise to become a positive movement to honor and preserve the memory of the historical movement for Pakistan, its visionary founding leaders, its painfully memorable birth, and its journey through time. This past year (2007), the event organizers have excelled in putting together a program which truly had something for everybody.
Four years ago, San Jose attorney Javed Ellahie initiated the idea of an event to commemorate Jinnah and other historical leaders. The logical date was set for December 25th, also Jinnah’s birthday – and for lack of anything else, the organization became known as Pakistan Founders Celebration Committee (PFCC). The dinner gala has been held every year at the Bay Area’s premier Pakistani restaurant Chandni in Newark and is attended by about 200 enthusiastic Pakistani Americans.
The most appropriate theme for the 2007 gala was “The Struggle for Pakistan” which encompassed just about everything from the early days of the idea of independence from British Raj, through partition and the ensuing cycles of various uniformed rulers and feudal-family administrations, to the current political crisis brewing in Pakistan. Note that the dinner gala was a couple of days before the sad demise of Benazir Bhutto; nevertheless, there was enough to talk about and debate the halaat or current affairs.
The evening program was planned with all ages and interests in mind, starting with Urdu sha’iree and Iqbal buffs being treated to a pre-dinner session of the Allama’s works by Prof. Syed Ahsan, a well-respected authority on the subject of Urdu poetry and a selfless teacher-mentor in the community. A tastefully displayed collection of art and Islamic calligraphy by master Sadequain and local artists Erum Chaudry and Sanna Khan greeted the guests as they arrived in the banquet hall. Guests were also directed to a poll and ballots and participated in a most interesting mock election and opinion poll of current issues – but more on the “elections” a little later.
The sumptuous buffet dinner was served right on time. Opening with brief remarks by the mild mannered PFCC Chairperson Javed Ellahie, dressed in an elegant black sherwani, the organizers gave proof that a very desi Pakistani program can (surprise!) also start and stay right on schedule. Mr. Ellahie’s traditional attire and a full head of grey locks reminded the audience very aptly of the handsome Mr. Jinnah himself. Perhaps Javed will don the Quaid-i-Azam’s trade mark Jinnah cap to complete the picture next year.
Tastefully displayed collection of art and Islamic calligraphy by master Sadequain
Youth involvement is encouraged by sponsoring an essay competition with scholarship cash prizes for the winning entries. The essays this year covered varied aspects of “The Struggle” and included brief dissertations from the young students on what should be done to make things better in Pakistani civil society. All entries were recognized with certificates and prizes awarded to the winners. It is noteworthy that two of the essay entries were submitted by students of schools of The Citizens Foundation (TCF) in Pakistan.
An audience participation segment provided the first light moments of the evening with an interesting twist on Urdu quiz games. Co-hosted by well-known sha’iraa Noshi Gilani and respected community leader Javed Khan, guests were kept on their toes by Noshi Gilani firing off the first phrase or misra of an Urdu couplet and asking for the prize-winning second misra of the couplet. Javed Khan stole the show by reading humorous English transliterations of common idioms and challenged the audience to figure it out in Urdu. The dual exercise added to the fun and scholastic aspects of the evening and served as great ice-breakers, with animated conversation and laughter heard at all the large round tables.
Transitioning to a few serious moments, PFCC recognized two non-profit organizations that serve education and development among the least privileged in Pakistan – HDF (Human Development Foundation) and TCF (The Citizens Foundation).
Promptly returning to nostalgia and frivolity, emcee par excellence Omar Khan introduced a montage of film clips with songs from the good old 60’s and historical footage of maestro Mehdi Hassan and the one and only ‘Madam’ Mohtarma Noor Jehan. A photomontage of recognizable personalities followed – from Liaquat Ali Khan, Fatima Jinnnah, Mujib-ur-Rahman, Imran Khan, A.Q. Khan, Malik Muneer, Justice Iftikhar Chaudry, Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Younas – to Benazir, Nawaz Sharif and President Musharraf. A video message from retired Supreme Court Justice Wajihuddin was played, congratulating PFCC and “ … urging the community to support education in Pakistan … [because] education is the answer to the multitude of problems."
Then came the major highlights of the evening – a lively panel discussion, election results and entertainment. First, a former army officer Brigadier Feroz Khan and economist Dr. Ahmed Faruqui took the stage as expert panelists on Pakistan affairs and presented brief opening statements related to the panel discussion theme: Emergency and Judicial Independence. Though both gents were opposed in their views on many counts, a spirited discussion and debate ensued in the best traditions of parliamentary and democratic procedure. It was heartening to note that both eloquent and seasoned panelists presented their views intellectually, with constructive and determined opposition when there was reason to disagree.
Tactfully crafting his opening remarks, Brig. Feroz Khan acknowledged that there was an “unhealthy imbalance in the institutions”, an oblique but obvious reference to the dominance of the army vs. other branches of government. To his credit though, Brig. Khan maintained an optimistic outlook and sincerely encouraged the guests to expect brighter days ahead with the establishment of democratic institutions rather than to become embroiled in a finger-pointing blame game for fiascos of past regimes.
Dr. Faruqui on the other hand was quick on the offensive against any shade of military or autocratic governance, slamming the high-handedness of Musharraf in dealing with the judiciary and manipulating the political scene to tip the scales in his own favor. Faruqui minced no words in stating that Musharraf had outlived his welcome and it was time for him to leave the political scene; that despite real dangers of civilian strife, instability and potential for a worsening law and order situation, the army should return to the barracks and remain permanently out of politics for democracy to take root in Pakistan.
The debate and discussion between the two panelists shifted to taking questions (on index cards) from the audience. Both agreed that basic education for the masses had been sorely neglected and that education was the most critical need for meaningful change, although neither speaker had a strong opinion on how the education system could be radically changed without bold and total reform taking place. Audience questions and comments varied from ways to deal with corruption, to the election process, with the panelists often taking middle-of-the-road positions in their responses. However, in response to a rather caustic comment from a guest, Brig. Khan unabashedly showed some ruffled feathers and loyalty in defending the armed services, recalling the importance of a strong defense force with two borders to protect and radical insurgencies to deal with. Dr. Faruqui on the other hand remained consistent in his position for full restoration of an independent judiciary and for Musharraf to be removed and brought to trial under the law. Muted or overt applause were the only indicators of how guests scored the opinions and statements of the esteemed and knowledgeable panelists. Omar Khan deserved kudos for a good job at moderating this very stimulating segment.
Speaking of scores, about 180 “ballots” and poll responses were tallied in the mock elections. The question of most interest to the audience was: who should be the next prime minister. Benazir and Nawaz Shareef got about 35 votes each, Musharraf got around 30, Imran Khan received less than a handful … and the winner by a huge margin was … “None of The Above” – with about 70 votes, but not a clear majority either. Short of a recount, it seems we will just have to wait to see how the real life elections turn out in late February.
The debate, discussions and elections got all tables buzzing with personal opinions and everyone was suddenly transformed into a political analyst. Emails and phone numbers were exchanged with promises to get together, tea and dessert were enjoyed and, with typical short-lived memory for dirty realities of politics and ugliness of our lives, the audience prepared to be entertained to music and songs.
Alamgir Haq, who hails from Bangladesh and came to fame in Karachi in the ‘70’s, has been a regular feature at several Pakistani events recently in California and other places. A most consistent characteristic of Alamgir is that he is entertaining, has excellent virtuosity, versatility and a good repertoire of tasteful songs ranging from zippy rock beats to ghazal and nostalgic filmi geet, with his own hit “CoCo Coreena” making the crowd merrily swing and clap to the beat.
The evening came to an end with thanks to the organizers, volunteers and sponsors and the audience departed with content smiles and promises to almost certainly return on December 25th in 2008 – for another enjoyable Founders gala.