Can MandiExpress replace the Sabzi Mandi experience?

MandiExpress is an online grocery store that lets you get fresh produce delivered to your doorstep. — Kamran Nafees

Like most Pakistani millennials, I spend so much time glued to a computer screen (studying or working) that I lack the basic skills required to shop for quality food items at reasonable prices from the open market.

And because I’m not used to buying my fruits and veggies, keeping an eye out for quality while effectively bargaining can be a daunting task.

This is where MandiExpress seemed attractive, with its promise of bringing the virtual Sabzi Mandi to the comfort of my home.

The brainchild of Jehanzeb Chaudhri and Danyaal Balkhi, MandiExpress is an online solution for your grocery shopping needs. Their idea is to connect small-scale farmers to the consumers by eliminating middlemen, thereby maximising profits for farmers. They also promise that customers get fresh products delivered to their doorsteps.

An easy interface

The website itself features a sleek and modern design, with the colour scheme enhancing its aesthetic appeal.

The MandiExpress homepage — Screengrab

The homepage features some of their products, discount codes and a list of best-selling products.

Navigation is seamless and responsive, with each selection loading within the same webpage, making the browsing experience faster.

The downside is that you can’t open multiple page tabs from the website. You will have to open the site again, each time in a new tab and navigate to the required section each time. It’s too much work if you’re looking to get the job done quickly.

A particularly eye-catching section on the left sidebar is ‘Popular Tags’ which lists some of the common uses of different products. Some of the listed tags here are ‘anaemia’, ‘anti-cancer’, ‘anti-dementia’, ‘anti-nausea’, among others. So if you are looking for foods that have a particular benefit, this section will take you to the relevant products.

The ordering and shipping guidelines, return policy, discount codes and other vital information is prominently displayed on the website, limiting ambiguity for new users.

The catalogue has a lot to offer

The catalogue is extensive and includes many items you won’t find at your local vendor.

The start-up offers the expected vegetables and fruits to its customers but also adds seafood, meat products, spices, sauces, pickles, juices, and specialised foods for health conscious consumers.

Surprisingly, it also offers an extensive range of dairy products.

Salad leaves and peas from MandiExpress — Kamran Nafees

The catalogue lists the name of vegetables, fruits, and meat products in English as well as in Urdu, eliminating the language barrier that still exists across most of the internet.

The fruit section too includes many fruits that are not commonly available at fruits stalls around the city, including pineapple, kiwis, avocados, blueberries and raspberries.

The service offers users two quality grades for most fruits. The normal quality and the Grade-A quality, which is also known as ‘Darja Awwal’ or ‘Aik Number’ in the open market.

For a slightly higher price, you can get the item conveniently delivered to your home, eliminating the chance of being deceived by a local vendor into paying a higher price.

Prices are competitive (minus seafood)

Most of the rates are likely to be the same as your local street vendor. But while there is little to no difference between the market and website rates for fruits and vegetables, the prices of seafood can be considerably higher than your local shops.

According to Chaudhri, the reason for this is that all seafood is procured from an exporter to ensure freshness and quality.

Upon surveying the meat market, I found the rates of beef, poultry and mutton to be just marginally higher than the local market, which is expected considering the clean, hygienic meat you get without having to stand at the local butcher.

Ordering is a breeze

The ease with which you can navigate the website and place your order sets MandiExpress apart from its competitors.

On the right sidebar, the shopping cart updates in real-time as you add or remove items without having to reload a new page each time. This makes the process of checkout quick and efficient. The order form at checkout also gives you the option to leave comments or special instructions for the rider.

Spinach and tomatoes from MandiExpress — Kamran Nafees

Although the website informs users of a Rs30 delivery charge per order, it is currently waived for an unspecified time period as part of a ‘promotional offer’.

One setback experienced was while trying to add or remove items from the basket. Sometimes the operation fails even when the Internet connection is working.

Delivery ups and downs

MandiExpress offers three time slots for delivery. You can have your items delivered between 8am to 11am, 12pm to 3.30pm, and 5.30pm to 9pm.

For delivery on a particular day, you are required to place your order before 2am. So if you want your product on 10 December at 11am, you can place your order latest by 2am on the same date. If you place your order at 3am, it will be delivered on 11 December.

The website offers returns within 48 hours of delivery for any non-meat products. For meat-based products that are unfit for consumption, you can inspect and return them at the time of delivery.

Bananas and apples from MandiExpress — Kamran Nafees

In order to test the quality of their products and service, we ordered several fresh items. Our shopping cart included the following items:

  • Banana (Kela) (Grade A)
  • Golden Apple Grade A
  • Pea (Matar)
  • Salad Leaves (Salad Patta)
  • Spinach (Palak)
  • Tomato (Tamator)
  • Pieced Chicken (Boti)

In total, these seven items cost Rs837, which was reduced to Rs711.45 after applying a 15% discount code for first time users.

Since I reside in Gulistan-e-Johar, Karachi, I couldn’t get the items delivered to my home as it falls outside of MandiExpress’ delivery zone. This forced me to have the items delivered to a friend’s place. Currently, the company only offers delivery in four areas of Karachi: DHA, Clifton, KDA, and PECHS.

According to Mr Chaudhri, they have recently started delivering to Gulshan-e-Iqbal and North Nazimabad but have not made the announcement official as it remains in testing phase.

Products are impressive

Overall, I was impressed by the packaging and presentation of the delivered items. I should add, however, that I was disappointed by the lack of effort in packing the chicken. While the fruits and vegetables were securely sealed, the chicken was delivered in an unsealed plastic bag.

The chicken was delivered in an unsealed plastic bag — Kamran Nafees

Most items were true to their description on the website, except for the bananas which didn’t have the appearance of a Grade-A product. Nevertheless, they were clean, fresh, and tasted great (not using the word ‘fine’, because they were super sweet and just the right texture). To my surprise, one of the apples turned out to be bad from the inside.

The bad apple — Kamran Nafees

The vegetables were all neatly packed and fresh. Nothing was soggy, nor did any item appear stale. Overall, it was good to see the delivered items live up to the website’s ambitious claims of freshness.

Verdict

I will definitely be making use of the service on a regular basis as soon as they begin delivering in my area, provided that the company overcomes the few shortcomings I experienced.

If you are looking to get into online grocery shopping, MandiExpress seems like a safe bet. You may, at times, find some rates to be relatively higher, but they aren’t exorbitant. Additionally, the quality for the most part is pretty great.

Packing and presentation: 8/10

Quality: 9/10

Rates: 8/10

Overall user experience: 9/10


All photographs by Kamran Nafees. Do you want your product/service reviewed? Email us at web@dawn.com


Originally published at Dawn Images on December 21st, 2016

Who is responsible for the two Pakistani teenage ‘suicides’?

Two days ago, I woke up to the terrible news of the death of two children in a school in Karachi. Initial reports suggested that the children had decided to end their lives after their parents disapproved of their ‘romantic involvement’.

I have been utterly depressed at the very thought of this incident. While the police are still currently examining the evidence, what follows is the inevitable question, who do we hold responsible for the incident?

The parents? The society? Media? Co-education? Gun culture?

This incident, however isolated and rare as it may be, cannot be ascribed to any one of the points mentioned above. Some of the points are valid, some invalid. The details are yet to fully unfold, but I think this is the right time to analyse the problems within our society, especially, when it comes to parenting.

Know more: Teenage ‘suicide’: Police find more letters in boy’s schoolbag

1. ‘The co-education system is to blame’:

We are faced with the tragic deaths of two adolescents. We are being told by an overwhelming section of the society that this happened because a boy and a girl were left to intermingle freely, against our ‘moral values’. I do not want to take on the religious argument here. But let’s look at this differently.

I have spent three years of my life documenting news from rural Sindh for a local newspaper. In these three years, I have always been surprised by how the majority of eloping couples (and ultimately ending up dead through karo-kari or honour-killing, or demanding protection from the courts), belonged to the rural areas, where there was no concept of co-education, working together, or intermingling with the opposite sex.

The people in these areas cannot so much as openly talk to a member of the opposite gender. Yet, they manage to fall in love to an extent that they leave their homes for it.

Who or what is responsible here? Obviously, not co-education. It is in fact the opposite – extreme gender segregation – that creates frustrations which eventually lead to these couples eloping; escaping from the lack of freedom to marry by choice.

Compare this to cities, where men and women are freer to interact and marry by choice, cases of elopement seem to be lower.

Way more killings happen in the streets, bazaars and in villages over petty disputes than in co-education schools. The argument that co-education causes such incidents is plainly false.

2. ‘The media is responsible’:

Various researches have evidenced that programs aired on television have an overwhelming impact on children. Parental advisory labels exist to warn parents against allowing their child to watch content which might potentially harm their mental development. But while parents even in developed countries do not follow this safety protocol as strictly as they should, in our part of the word, parents are altogether clueless even about the notion of such a thing as ‘suitability of content’.

Also read: Are you aware of your child’s online life?

When I was in high school, the two most popular video games of the time were GTA: San Andreas and Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, which almost everyone of us had played. Both of these games were rated “Mature” and suitable only for people of ages 17 and above (because of the “Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs” that they contained).

Ideally, we shouldn’t have had access to these games. But we did, and they must have impacted our minds in a negative way. After all, psychologists could not have set an age-limit on them for nothing. Young minds are affected by the violence depicted in these videos and therefore, parents need to watch much more closely what their children are doing online, and what ideas they are taking away from TV programs.

3. ‘Parents are responsible’:

To a large extent, yes. Having a gun at your home within your child’s reach is irresponsible. In fact, having a gun at all, without a valid reason, is partaking in the poison of gun culture, a real and continuing hazard in this country.

Also read: Fake guns, real terrorism

Parents are also responsible for what their adolescent children watch or do online. I once saw a short video clip by the US Government which encouraged parents to keep computers in a place where they can be monitored by every passing family member. The video also encouraged parents not to back-off if their children argued for ‘privacy’.

Not just monitoring their child, parents also have a duty towards ensuring the well-being of their children beyond physical needs – their mental and emotional health, especially in this cataclysmic day and age.

Most youngsters my age and those 10 years younger, will have parents born in the 1950s and 1960s. These parents should recognise that the times their children are growing up in, are vastly different from their’s. The media, the technologies, the schooling, the environment – everything is different. Suicidal tendencies in schoolchildren are much more prevalent now than before. Kids today hardly open up to their parents about their feelings, because emotional insulation has become an entrenched part of our culture; just possessing sentiments is a thing that’s looked down upon.

Consequently, most children end up either harming themselves or befriending a sympathiser outside of their family, who could be a great or a disastrous influence.

My advice to parents is to understand and empathise with your child; his/her feelings and his/her thoughts and desires. If they say they love someone or will die or murder for someone or something, a person, a PlayStation, a laptop or anything, take it seriously.

If you have to turn down their request, be gentle and explain your decision. Harsh tones and indifference will only generate resentment in your child. Some children will submit, but the more audacious ones could resort to disastrous steps.

My heart goes out to the two innocent children of Karachi.

Khul ke gul kuch to bahaar apni saba dikhla gaye
Hasrat un ghunchon pe hai, jo bin khiley murjha gaye

While some flowers bloomed to a spectacular display
There is sorrow for the buds that wilted before they could blossom


Originally published at Dawn.com on September 3rd, 2015

New Horizons: US spacecraft whizzes by Pluto in historic flyby

 

This image provided by NASA shows Pluto from the New Horizons spacecraft. —AP

By: AFP/Bilal Karim Mughal 

After an interplanetary voyage of nine years, and covering a distance of approximately 3 billion miles, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has buzzed past Pluto in a historic flyby.

At this historic moment, the spacecraft has taken the most detailed images of Pluto ever taken, which will enable the scientists to know more about the dwarf planet.

The New Horizons spacecraft was launched in January 2006 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Center in Florida, US.

It was built under the NASA New Frontiers programme for exploring the planets of the solar system. Not only has it made the record of being first spacecraft to be so close to Pluto, but at the launch speed of 16.26 kilometres per second, it also holds the record of highest launch speed of any spacecraft ever.

At the speed of 58,536 kilometres per hour, the spacecraft flew by Pluto at 7:49 AM EDT and 4:50 PM Pakistan Standard Time. It was just 12,500 kilometres far from Pluto at its closest approach.

“I have to pinch myself. Look what we accomplished,” mission operations manager Alice Bowman said. “It is truly amazing that humankind can go out and explore these worlds and to see Pluto be revealed just before our eyes. It is just fantastic.

“New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern described what he called “a moment of celebration,” with the promise of a “16-month data waterfall” ahead that will help scientists write whole new textbooks about Pluto.

“We have completed the initial reconnaissance of the solar system, an endeavor started under President (John F.) Kennedy more than 50 years ago, continuing today under President (Barack) Obama,” Stern told reporters.

The 478 kilogramme spacecraft is primarily built by the Applied Physics Laboratory of John Hopkins University USA and the Southwest Research Institute.

Pluto is roughly at a distance of over 4 billion kilometres, and with a diameter of mere 2370 kilometres, it remained a hard target for even the most powerful Earth-based and orbiting telescopes to capture its detailed images.

The New Horizons mission is aimed at providing the scientists with more insights on Pluto’s geography, atmosphere, topography, and other characteristics.

Even the size of Pluto has been revisited, and known to be 4-5 kilometres greater than the previously known values, after the latest measurements by the spacecraft.

The spacecraft will now transmit images of Pluto and its 5 moons, which will help scientists in understanding more about the dwarf-planet.

New Horizons’ next mission is to explore the Kuiper Belt, a much-less known region of the solar system.

According to NASA, the spacecraft is currently flying into the unknown, and it will intimate the mission control about its well-being on Wednesday 15 July, and will provide the most detailed images which it took at the moment of its closest approach.

The spacecraft launched in 2006, the same year that Pluto was downgraded to “dwarf planet” status due to the celestial body’s small size.

New Horizons is the first spacecraft to fly past Pluto, and its seven scientific instruments aim to reveal up-close details of the surface, geology and atmosphere of Pluto and its five moons.


Originally published at Dawn.com on July 14th, 2015

 

Ending the moon-sighting controversy through science

As Pakistanis prepare for the holy month, filling their refrigerators with Seher and Iftar essentials, and go lengths to ensure that their Eid dresses are ready on time, they are all fixated on one question:

“Yaar, chaand kab hai?” (When will the moon be sighted?)

Thanks to the ill-informed reporting of our media and the myth-believing nature of Pakistanis, we grow up blaming the Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee (the official body for moon sighting and the authority which declares the official start of Islamic months) for its inability to see the moon.

To further fuel the controversy, there is Masjid Qasim Ali Khan in Peshawar, which dissents every other year (save last year), and announces the start and end of Ramazan asynchronously with the rest of the country.

Some blame the Masjid, some blame the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee, and most live in ignorance of the matter at hand. If one takes out the time to understand this moon business, they will learn that modern scientific tools can help us resolve the issue, which is not an issue at all, if you ask me.

The Sun-Earth-Moon geometry

The rotation of the moon around the Earth drives the Lunar Calendar, which is also the Islamic or Hijri Calendar. The time between two full moons is 29.5 days. When the moon comes exactly between the Sun and the Earth, it is called the “Conjunction” and it is said that a new moon is “born”.

At the conjunction point, all of the Sun’s radiation is reflected back by the moon and none reaches the Earth. Therefore, the moon is completely black to us earthlings and is thus invisible.

The time passed after the moment of conjunction is called the age of the moon.

Credit: Creative Commons

After the conjunction, the moon continues proceeding in its orbit and the angle between the moon and Sun as seen by an observer on Earth (elongation) increases. It happens at different rates during different months, because its orbit is elliptical, and hence, its speed varies. As the angle increases gradually from 0 degrees, the crescent moon starts to form.

Credit: Creative Commons

According to Syed Khalid Shaukat, an expert on moon sighting who has decades of experience at his disposal, the minimum angle between the Sun and moon for the moon to be visible through naked eye is 10.5 degrees. Reaching this elongation can take anywhere from 17 to 24 hours after conjunction. Thus, age is not the primary factor for moon’s visibility – the elongation is.

The conflict

A section of Islamic scholars believe that seeing the moon with the naked eye should be the criterion for declaring the start of a new month. A smaller section advocates that we can rely solely on the calculations, and there is no need to visually see the moon.

Without endorsing one view over the other, I will simply point out that as far as sighting the moon goes, we could acquire great deal of help from science.

We could use calculations and modern simulations for knowing where and when to look for the moon, how high it will be in the sky, and what are the chances of its visibility. It is now possible to calculate the exact window of the moon’s visibility after sunset and even generate simulated images of the moon beforehand.

The official and unofficial moon sighting committees ask people to testify if they have seen the moon. This is where these simulated images can be used: anyone who claims to have seen the moon can be asked questions like what time they saw it, how high it was, whether it was near or close to the sun, whether the cusps were upward or sideways, whether it was on the left side or right side of the moon, etc.

These questions are enough to filter out false claims of sighting.

This rejection is attributed to genuine misjudgement, which does not diminish the person’s uprightness and acceptability as a witness. Numerous renowned, as well as recent and contemporary scholars, support this view.

That is how the Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee filters out testimonies, but the Masjid Qasim Ali Khan gives no value to these calculations and relies solely on the piousness of a person as evidence of correct sighting.

The Ruet-i-Hilal Committee has borne the brunt of a history of misconceptions and badmouthing, but in fact, the committee makes very scientific decisions, give or take occasional errors, which are very rare.

Their decision is almost always in accordance with scientific calculations, while those by Masjid Qasim Ali Khan are often found mathematically impossible. Outside of science, it is indeed very hard to establish the sighting of the moon to a credible degree, and so Masjid Qasim’s claims will be doubtful at best.

In 2011, the Masjid announced that the moon had been sighted and that Ramazan would commence from August 1, whereas the visibility wasn’t possible from Peshawar and surrounding areas at all.

Courtesy: Moonsighting.com

On the other hand, the Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee made the correct decision.

Courtesy: Moonsighting.com

Explaining the ‘fat’ crescent

Another misconception of Pakistanis is that if the crescent is fat, it could not possibly be the first sighting of the lunar month.

Wrong. It may not be the first date of the lunar month, but it can certainly be the first sighting.

The reason for that is, if the moon’s ‘age’ is less than 17 hours on a given day, it will set without becoming visible to the naked eye. So technically, there was a crescent, it just never got the chance to be seen from Earth. The next day at the same time, it will be 17+24=41 hours of age, and will definitely look fatter and more visible.

Blaming the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee for not spotting the young crescent on its first day is foolish – blame nature, rather.

Today, astronomy can accurately establish the time of birth of the new moon with the accuracy of seconds, and its likelihood of being visible. So, what is the harm in using this astronomical basis to reject a claimed sighting which could not possibly be correct?


Originally published at Dawn.com on June 17th, 2015.

Why the ‘science’ we study is not really science

Lately, Pakistan seems to have started taking baby steps towards shining on the scientific horizon. We have a Nobel Prize in Physics to our credit, 5-year-olds with IT certifications, and an ever-increasing number of doctorates being produced.

On the other hand, the majority of our children remain deprived of even primary education and a blessing called the Internet, (or even electricity). We have been seeing records and amazing things happening in Pakistan’s educational arena: most A’s, youngest-to-achieve-this, youngest-with-this-certificate, talks, seminars, conferences, electric rickshaws, and electricity generating systems being built in universities, and so on.

Technologies, especially indigenous, student-made technologies are the backbone of any country’s economic, technical, and educational advancements. However, being sharp in building electronic circuits, and developing technologies and software is just one small part of being a ‘scientist’.

The more important part is to be a scientist at heart and mind, and that is the area where we, as a society, lag.

Of course, there are exceptions, but they are very few.

Read on: No science culture

Although Pakistan is producing far more PhDs than ever before, the number of students (especially women) being enrolled in universities and other institutes of education is climbing up every year, it remains evident that our society still collectively lacks the ability and courage to think critically, even though our students very well remember the definition of scientific method.

Why do we keep seeing highly educated people, software developers, entrepreneurs, and students who can build advanced technical projects but still believe that man never landed on the moon?

Why do these highly educated people who are able to counter their teachers and counterparts with a barrage of critical questions during classrooms and technical seminars, easily buy into any propaganda spewed in the name of nationalism, patriotism, favourite political party, etc.?

To me, the answer lies in the way we teach science to our children.

Our schools, colleges, and universities focus the least on developing scientific attitudes, instead emphasising command over the technicalities of science – being adept at knowing how machines and equations work; how things are rather than why things are the way they are and why they cannot be another way.

Thus, ‘knowledge’ is taught and spread around without a deeper understanding of its logical underpinnings.

Also read: The rise of unreason

I mean, even the things we call ‘derivations’ are hardly ‘derived’ by students in the examination hall, they are reproduced from memory. Instructors at schools, colleges and tuition centres put up two or three formulae on the board, and write out the chain of equations leading to the desired final equation. Students memorise this chain by heart and scribble them out in their exams.

The implications, fallacies, thinking, and questioning gone into all these scientific concepts, is absent from the curricula. We teach our children the scientific theories, but not what it takes to formulate a theory.

In fact, hang on, we do not even teach them the literal difference between ‘theory, law, and a hypothesis’, with most people confusing ‘theory’ with ‘hypothesis’, and even more who think of a ‘theory’ as merely a hunch.

Also read: Religious science: Riding the chariots

Science is considered too boring a subject by many. The potential and power of science transforming the world is not yet fully known to the so-called scientists and science students of our country. Our reasoning remains at the stage where we still have people aplenty saying, ‘Yaar, Darwin ki theory toh bus theory hai na, proved thori hai’. (Darwin’s theory is just a theory, not proven fact).

Such ignorance cannot be excused by saying ‘biology isn’t my thing’, because even if interdisciplinary excellence is not mandatory, the foundations of all sciences are similar, and that should enable one to think critically and formulate logical arguments.

I was once holding a public astronomy session with my friends in Karachi where a man approached me with his children and started asking questions about the Special Theory of Relativity. After I walked him through it, he was mesmerised by the phenomenon. And then this exchange happened:

Me: Einstein was a great man.

Him: Really? Do you know he was a Jew?

Me: And, so what if he was?

Him: You wouldn’t have called him great if you knew he was a Jew.

What brand of science are his children likely to learn if their father loves science but hates scientists for their religion (or irreligion)?

There is a distinction between being technologically sound, and having a scientific attitude. As Carl Sagan puts it, ‘science is much more a way of thinking, than it is a body of knowledge’. What we generally do is regard technology as science, and keep on living with the same biases.

With an education like this, there is no wondering why we chuck arguments which appeal to the mind out of the window, in favour of half-baked ‘theories’ which affirm our notions and let us remain in our comfort zones.

Take a look: Science for the ummah

On any given day, myth; word-of-mouth; personal narratives; political speeches; analyses manufactured with predetermined conclusions; quacks, palmists and dark magicians; and pseudo-intellectual arguments win over rational discourse, even for students who are studying in scientific disciplines.

Logic as a tool is not only useful in science but can be used to objectively analyse almost everything (and more importantly in our case, everything that is aired on the media). The ability to differentiate between baseless arguments and assumptions, and arguments supported by facts, should not be that difficult to acquire at all.

Our students should not be studying physics while believing that there is no scientific proof of a moon landing.

Our biology students should not be mocking Darwin, rather they should develop an insight into the theory of evolution, and the proofs it has in its support.

Reasoning, objectivity, being free of bigotry, and accepting your mistakes whenever facts are presented to you are the key towards developing a scientific attitude.

Technology is a gift of science, but if there is no development of scientific attitude, then it may light up your lives in the literal sense, but not enlighten it.


Originally published at Dawn.com on March 9th, 2015

Why Pakistan should celebrate the eradication of dracunculiasis

Way back in the later half of 1980s, US President Jimmy Carter was on his visit to Ghana. During his tour, he happened to visit a small village. It was in this forgotten corner of the universe that Mr Carter saw a woman whom he thought was holding a baby in her arms. However, it wasn’t her baby.

It was her breast.

Two-thirds of the village population at the time, including the aforementioned woman, were incapacitated by the Guinea Worm Disease, caused by the infection of the parasitic worm called ‘dracunculiasis‘. This worm makes its way into human body through consumption of water contaminated with its larvae.

Once inside the body, the worm starts to grow, oftentimes growing up to a metre long in a year’s period.

Initially, there are no symptoms, but then it slowly emerges from the skin during an excruciatingly painful 30 days. Although it is very uncommon for the disease to cause death, it leaves the affected person incapable of conducting his or her daily activities.

Also see: WHO declares Peshawar world’s ‘largest reservoir’ of polio

When Carter had visited Ghana in 1986, the disease affected almost 3.5 million people in Asia and Africa. The woman who President Carter had encountered, had 11 worms in her body, with one of them coming out of her nipple.

The sight moved President Carter so much that he went back to US, and started a new mission: waging peace instead of waging war.

President Jimmy Carter launched the Carter Center Guinea Worm Eradication Program and resolved that the painful disease would not be allowed to spread further misery in the lives of the people living in the far-off areas of Asia and Africa, where clean drinking water was not available.

There is no medication to treat the affected person, nor is there a vaccination for prevention. However, prevention is possible by providing access to clean drinking water and other community-based measures and behavioural changes.

Read on: KP, Fata residents comprise 96pc of polio victims this year

The disease was deemed eradicable because of several reasons, including the fact that its larvae are limited to only stagnant water reservoirs, and the disease is also geographically limited — occurring only in Africa and Asia.

The first disease to be eliminated from our planet was smallpox, which was believed to have been affecting humans from prehistoric times. It was declared completely eradicated by WHO in 1979. The last occurring case of smallpox was reported in 1977.

Also, prevention is possible because the affected person can be singled out visually once the worm starts appearing from the feet.

Filtering the water, providing improved drinking water facilities, and the use of larvicides in every area of occurrence are other preventive measures.

In May 1981, the Inter-Agency Steering Committee for Cooperative Action for the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade (1981–1990) proposed that if the guinea worm is eliminated, it would be deemed as the indicator of a successful decade.

And now, with the joint work of WHO, UNICEF, and the Carter Center, this disease which had millions of affected people every year in 21 countries of Asia and Africa, is nearing its complete ouster from the planet.

Almost 30 years of intense surveillance, reporting, mapping of endemic areas, etc has seen the number of cases drop to just 126 cases in 2014 — a drop of 99.99 per cent.

This is a marvellous example of how community-based collaboration and teaching can be used to eliminate diseases. When we finally say goodbye to guinea worm, it will mark the elimination of the first parasitic disease from Earth and the second disease in all.

The first disease to be eliminated from our planet was smallpox, which was believed to have been affecting humans from prehistoric times. It was declared completely eradicated by WHO in 1979. The last occurring case of smallpox was reported in 1977.

Now, let us address the elephant in the room:

Only Pakistan and two other countries remain a hurdle in the eradication of the polio virus. From the entire planet!

While community-based efforts did really pay off in Africa, the reluctance of certain sections of our nation towards polio vaccination is keeping the virus alive and keeping the world at risk.

Look through: Jonas Salk — The hero we are unworthy of

When you hear historic news like the overcoming of guinea worm, you start believing in the incredible power of science coupled with sincerity and commitment of course. But when you hear the local news of vaccinators being shot dead across the country, hope dwindles.

Still, I am hopeful that after the guinea worm, the next threat to be completely neutralised will be the polio virus. Bill Gates recently saidin an interview, that in the next 15 years, three more diseases will be wiped off from Earth, including polio. Concrete steps, however, are required to achieve this feat.

WHO’s certification policy requires three consecutive years of zero-case reporting before a disease can be certified as eradicated. So the nearest eradication year will be 2018.

The rest of the world is nearing the cause. There has been a massive drop in polio occurrences worldwide, and as Bill Gates said, the spotlight is on Pakistan.

Read on: ‘We are protecting children from polio at the cost of our lives’

Amidst everything that hinders this worthy cause, I have to commend the dedication of our polio vaccinators, who risk nothing less than their lives to administer vaccines to children.

Just yesterday, I woke up to this news of a policeman shot dead while escorting a polio worker in Nazimabad.

I have no words. The third eradication cannot come too soon.


Originally published at Dawn.com on January 27th, 2015

From kindergarten to CSS: The ‘cram to pass’ model abounds

Miss! Important sawalon par tick lagwa dein!

(Teacher, please tell us which of the questions are important ones).

If you were raised in Pakistan and studied in a Pakistani school – whether private or public – you will be more than familiar with the above statement.

Just before exams, it is customary for students to ask teachers which questions are likely to be in the exam, and the teachers narrow down a few topics from a pool, declaring them as the ‘important’ ones.

This ‘saves’ the students from the time and effort otherwise required to plough through every topic in order to salvage a passing grade.

Read on: Report sounds alarm bells over education crisis, calls for reform

I was raised in Pakistan and studied in both public and private schools. Just like other children, I wished the teachers would select easy topics for the exam. The teachers were not uncomfortable in laying out a list of ‘important for exam’ topics either. Hardly was there a teacher who would refuse to do this out of principle.

The trend continued in my board exams (I completed my SSC and HSC from Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education). Throughout high school (grades IX, X, XI, and XII), we used past papers to guess the possible questions in the exams. These past papers contained the 3-year, 5-year, and 10-year old exams of all the subjects.

It seems as if BISE too has its own pool of important topics, from which it selects a few topics and prints the examination paper. You can tally this by going through just a few of the most recent past papers together. The same questions get repeated over and over, and there is a fair chance that you are guaranteed to guess at least a few questions correctly, if you have prepared keeping the past papers in mind.

We passed the exams and secured A grades. So, what, you might ask, is the problem here?

Take a look: Textbook tinkering

Well, the problem becomes apparent when one realises that all the scraping and scrambling for important questions, and the rummaging through ‘guess papers’ and past papers; came at the expense of what is the entire point of getting an education – the growth of one’s intellectual, critical-thinking and problem-solving faculties.

All of primary and secondary education in Pakistan, save the Cambridge system, encourages a cramming of the syllabus.

Students know beforehand that the exams will ask for a lengthy excerpt from a certain book or the definition of a certain term; and there is simply no need to ponder the topic or understand even the basics, let alone move into the nuances of the matter at hand. All that is asked of your brain is to copy and paste.

The problem is not limited to secondary education. The same case is prevalent in most universities. Barring a few, all our higher education institutions promote the ‘cram to pass’ model.

I have seen the exam papers of several public sector universities of Sindh; the exam pattern is almost the same as that used by the BISE. Vague phrases like ‘define in detail’ and ‘explain in detail’ encourage students to memorise more and more material rather than writing an answer based on reason and rationale, even if shorter in length.

Explore: The ‘halal’ curriculum

But let me rephrase my statement. The problem is not limited to secondary education, and not even to the university level.

The highest exam of Pakistan – the CSS exam – endorses the same ratta-culture, and seems committed to the practice of repeating questions.

I retrieved a few past papers from the official source of CSS exams, the website of the Federal Public Service Commission of Pakistan, and here are a few examples.

The question on ijtehad in Islamiat appeared in 2009 in the following words:

Source: http://www.fpsc.gov.pk/icms/user/page.php?page_id=753

And then again in 2011:

http://www.fpsc.gov.pk/icms/user/page.php?page_id=833

Let’s move on to another subject. This question appeared in General Knowledge-I (Everyday Science) 2010 in the following words:

http://www.fpsc.gov.pk/icms/user/page.php?page_id=813

And then again in 2013:

http://www.fpsc.gov.pk/icms/user/page.php?page_id=953

Same is the case with other subjects of the CSS. This is just a sample of three years, 2009, 2011, and 2013, collected from the official website of FPSC. Websites other than the FPSC have compiled huge lists of questions which repeat over and over again, leaving the students with a pool of questions to study and prepare from.

So much for the highest examination of Pakistan, which appoints the successful candidates at key positions of the country.

Read about: Plagiarism detected in CSS paper

Another characteristic feature of our rotten exam system is the long range of marks for each question and the arbitrary manners in which the examiner awards marks. Again, this is prevalent as much in FPSC as in board exams.

Ideally, the student must have at least a rough idea beforehand of what will get him 15.5 marks instead of 15. No such framework is made available. Instead, examiners mark according to whim and often according to how beautiful your handwriting is!

By extension, your fate lies with the varying perceptions that different examiners hold; what may be a substantial and pretty response to a question for one examiner may be a lacklustre and ugly response for another.

Obviously this can, will, and does affect the positions which students secure.

All of these factors snowball into a big cluster bomb that is dropped, year after year, on the worthy cause of critical thought and the just, objective and transparent system which helps to sustain it.

Examination systems need a major overhaul, to say the least. Instead of asking the candidate to ‘define in detail’, the exam should ask him/her for detailing the reasons behind his/her response.

Until that happens, we cannot blame our school and college students for reproducing the complex equations of Physics and Math, while being clueless about the logic or reasoning behind them, or unable to give a single real life example of what they are saying.


Originally published at Dawn.com on October 28th, 2014

Metro Bus or Mars: The problem with our priorities

1969 was the year, when the United States succeeded in landing humans on the moon – our closest neighbour in space – and safely bringing them back to Earth.

The United States, being the most technologically advanced country on Earth, put that feather in its hat about 45 years ago.

What was the condition of India and Pakistan at that time? The two countries had already fought two battles, and were about to plunge into another one in 1971.

While the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was established in 1969, the same year when humans set foot on the moon, Pakistan’s Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) was established in 1961 – eight years before its Indian counterpart.

Explore: Space: Above and Beyond

SUPARCO was set up by the most famous of all Pakistani scientists and the country’s only Nobel Laureate: Dr Abdus Salam.

Dr Salam had advised Field Marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan, then President of Pakistan to establish a Space Sciences Research Wing within Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. This later turned into SUPARCO in 1964.

In 1960, President John F Kennedy had announced that the United States planned to land an American on the moon, and bring him safely back to earth before the decade was over.

Dr Tariq Mustafa, a scientist at Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission’s, writes in his memoir that for this project, NASA needed to map the wind conditions at the upper atmospheric region above the Indian Ocean.

In mid-September 1961, Dr Abdus Salam and Dr Tariq Mustafa held a meeting with NASA officials in Washington. On the occasion, NASA offered help to Pakistan in the development and launching of rockets to map the atmosphere above Indian Ocean, on the condition that any data acquired from the research on upper atmosphere will be shared with NASA.

Dr Abdus Salam helped set up Pakistan’s space organisation before India had founded theirs.

Pakistan quickly bagged the offer, and started working on the project. On 7 June 1962, Pakistan launched an unmanned rocket, Rehbar-Ifrom Sonmiani, with assistance from NASA.

Dr Tariq Mustafa led the team working on this project. With this experiment, Pakistan became the third country in Asia, first in South Asia, and only the 10th country in the world to have conducted such a launch.

Read on: Footprints: No space for Ahmadis

According to a report of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, before the June 1962 launch, NASA had started training Pakistani scientists at Wallops Island and the Goddard Space Flight Centers. It also put up fellowships and research associate programs at American universities for “advanced training and experience” in the field of space.

In subsequent years, however, Pakistan’s space program severely lagged due to the political turmoil which enveloped the country.

India built its first satellite Aryabhata, and launched it in 1975. Pakistan built its first satellite Badr-I and launched it in 1990.

India is now independently developing satellites, launching them on its own, and is the first nation to put its orbiter in Mars’s orbit in the first attempt. Meanwhile, Pakistan is still limited to Geographical Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing, and communication satellites.

Also read: India’s spacecraft beams back first Mars photos

The Paksat-1R, launched in 2011 is Pakistan’s latest satellite, that was funded, designed, built, and launched by our friend in need, China.

Pakistan’s only fully functional satellite is this communication satellite. So much for a national space agency in the 21st century.

Putting aside NASA and the European Space Agency, ISRO too started off with resources similar to Pakistan, and I will argue, with even lesser expertise than Pakistan.

SUPARCO was ahead of all other Asian nations in the space race, but what happened to us then?

On September 24, when India’s Mars Orbiter Mission, or Mangalyaan successfully entered the Martian orbit, I was completely overwhelmed with happiness. Why?

India’s four-stage Polar Launch Satellite Vehicle carrying India’s Mars Craft taking off near Chennai. — Photo credit: ISRO

Because as a person deeply interested in science, scientific achievement anywhere around the world – even if it is in some far off island in the Oceania – the achievement humbles me.

But at the same time, I think about Pakistan, the country whose passport I hold, and whose National Identity Card gives me an identity.

Pakistan is now nowhere in the space race.

Pakistan is nowhere near eliminating polio.

Pakistan is nowhere in literacy.

Where is Pakistan?

Pakistan’s education budget was, in actual terms, reduced by 11 per cent in the recent budget, whereas other countries are investing more in health and education.

It is obvious that the nation’s priorities are wrong.

Explore: Space exploration and Pakistan: The significance of space technology

I am not a critic of infrastructure projects, but roads, mass transits, flyovers, schools, and colleges are things Pakistan should’ve built a long time ago. The current focus should’ve been on education, science, and technology, with emphasis on space technology.

Why space technology? Because this is one area where technological advances require such intensive research on every subject, all the way from electronics to human biology, that every new project propels forward not just the field of space research but all other sciences touched by it.

Historically, we have seen several discoveries in one field or another as offshoots of space programmes.

For example, it was the US space shuttle’s fuel pump design which led to invention of the artificial heart. The heart has now been transplanted to more than 20 people.

The algorithm developed for sharpening the images acquired from the Hubble Space Telescope now helps sharpen the images of mammograms for treatment of breast cancer patients.

Dresses to keep the body temperature controlled for patients in certain diseases were inspired from astronauts’ spacesuits.

That is why the US spends billions of dollars on NASA every year; not just for an obsession with space, but for technological prowess overall, which ultimately translates into more development for people.

A number of people are still bashing India on failing to eliminate poverty before reaching out for Mars.

I will respond by saying Pakistan has neither eliminated poverty, nor reached Mars.

Take a look: Indian PM defends spending on space exploration

It is about time that the government reconsider its priorities.

Policies and funding allocations in our federal budgets need a revision. SUPARCO’s budget should be increased. It had potential in the past, and it still does! I met some great scientists from SUPARCO in a public fair once and was amazed at the enthusiasm of these people.

SUPARCO can still take the lead in the regional space program, if the government puts its attention towards it.

I am sure that if India has reached Mars in its first attempt, Pakistan will reach a new horizon too, in its first attempt, if it makes one.

And who knows if that horizon is as far as Pluto?

Let’s keep the hope alive.


Originally published at Dawn.com on September 26th, 2014 

All Night Astronomy – RutJaga at Countryside of Sindh

Whenever you are bored and have got ample spare time, what do you do? Read books? Watch TV? Go out with friends to movies or fast food? Well, Astronomers, on first priority make out to a dark sky location in countryside, so we can observe thousands of stars and feel the grandeur of the Universe.

One such program was set up very recently by the Karachi Astronomers Society and PakWheels. We planned to have an all night astronomy session at a small village in Sindh, Pakistan.

Mr. Hanif Bhatti, who happens to be the founder of PakWheels arranged all the matters of stay and eating, and the date was decided to be 1-2 March 2014.

I don’t remember the names of all since there were so many new people, whom I was meeting for the first time. As soon as I arrived at the rendezvous point to leave for the trip, I saw a man dressed up in white. It immediately clicked to me that it must be Umair Rasheed. Well I was right and I had a brief chit-chat with him until others also arrived. Umair Rasheed is a religious scholar and his institution is pioneering in predictions of new moon visibility. I also met a new member named Waqar. Gujarati chit-chat between Umair and Waqar amused me.

Soon I saw Absar Taqvi, Abbas Jafri, Imran Rasheed, Sajjad Ahmed, Muhammad Mehdi Hussain (President), Abubaker Siddiq (General Secretary), Zain Ahmed, Jahanzeb Panjwani, Ramiz Qureshi, and other guys. I introduced myself to Jahanzeb as Astronomer Bilal, and Jahanzeb asked if Astronomer is literally my first name. WOW I didn’t know it had become integrated part of my name.

As we were chatting in the scorching sunlight waiting for others to arrive, a black sedan stopped nearby and a Police guard got off the vehicle. He opened the back door, and an elderly man came out of the car and introduced himself as Zafar Ahmad Farooqi, Former Inspector General of Sindh Police.

Someone joked that if he goes with us, we will have free “Security Protocol”. Former happened, latter didn’t.

His style of asking “Your name please and what do you do” was like that of a true cop. Really impressive. Although he is 60+, but his passion for Astronomy at this age was amazing. He was the most senior astronomer in our group this time.

Wheels Rolling, Moving Finally.

I and Absar decided to sit together. Our coaster also picked Sarang Shaikh (MUET/KHI IEEE Waala), Nofal Khan, and Danish Mughal. During the journey, I and Absar discussed on awful lot many topics which ranged from Poetry to Science and Theology.

Arrived at the village around 2 PM and had lunch. Very sumptuous lunch at local hotel. At the lunch table, Sarang and I told stories of how political the environment is in the universities of Jamshoro, to Nofal and Danish. There was discussion on demographics of Hyderabad as well.

Left the hotel and this time we were moving towards our camp site. The road was too much dusty and those wearing black clothes now had their clothes patterned white.

Soon, the road turned into a narrow path which is called “Pag-Dandi” (Foot Strip) in local language. We started seeing the hut. I was really pleased to see the lush green fields of various crops including yellow-green field of mustard and sunflowers. Got off from the coasters and put our bags inside the hut.

Sunflower Field en route the Camp Site

Sunflower Field en route the Camp Site

Photo Credit: Abubaker Siddiq

Photo Credit: Abubaker Siddiq

It was now time for introduction. On our every all night astronomy session, we assemble in a large circle and introduce ourselves to each other. This helps us to know about each other’s background and their interest that brings them to such far-off places.

By the time we were done with the introduction, I felt excessive need of caffeine boost up. Kept feeling it for 5 more hours. :-/

Went out with Ramiz, Jahanzeb, and other guys to roam around in the fields and appreciate the nature. The walk from hut to the fields was long, and I was darn tired but I kept walking till we reached the end of the long Pag-Dandi. From there, we took a U-Turn and travelled another adjacent path of the same length just to check a small oasis type place at the other end. Took some shots here.

Photographers and Field Panorama Photo by Me

Photographers and Field Panorama
Photo by Me

Now since there was no short cut from that second path to the hut, we again had to travel all the way back, and then take the first path, and then the same distance to the hut. This completely enervated me and I decided to take a short nap so that I could remain up for the night, but there were so many flies that I couldn’t sleep even for a second. So I said “Ah man, alright let’s not try sleeping any more”, and went outside to see what was happening.

Call for Asr prayers was given, offered prayers and the telescope setup was started. At the water pump, I met two guys from Hyderabad, who happened to be friends of my another friend, whom I knew from Twitter through another friend, and that another friend was introduced to me by Ramiz 😀

The Sun was setting, and I and Ramiz along with other friends once again went out in the fields, took the same infinitely long path, just to capture few shots of the setting Sun. Shots taken were really worth the Round Trip.

Tasting the Sun Photo Credit: Ramiz Qureshi

Tasting the Sun
Photo Credit: Ramiz Qureshi

Pinching the Sun Photo Credit: Ramiz Qureshi

Pinching the Sun
Photo Credit: Ramiz Qureshi

Oh I forgot to mention, that there was a little trench filled with water between the hut and the telescopes. So we had two options, either to cross the bridge of death every time, or to take a relatively longer path, circling the venue and ending up at the telescopes from other side.

Chose to took the bridge of death for countless times because it was fun and scary. It was a wooden ladder serving as the bridge which scared me for the first time, but crossing it two or three times gave me a great experience, which of course cannot be mentioned on the resume.

Imran Bhai crossing the bridge with his telescope. Photo and Terminology Credit: Ramiz Qureshi

Imran Bhai crossing the bridge with his telescope.
Photo and Terminology Credit: Ramiz Qureshi

The cloak of darkness wrapped everything as the Sun went down, and we all gathered by the telescopes. Initially there were appetizer type discussions on science, including the famous movie Gravity (2013). We discussed the science behind the movie and the degree of its accuracy.

Setup and Discussions

Setup and Discussions

Setup and Discussions

Setup and Discussions

Then there were some serious discussions. Some new guys asked me questions on various scientific phenomena such as relativity, Newtonian and Einsteinian Physics, Stephen Hawking, whom I mistakenly uttered as Richard Dawkins (Freudian Slip?) and the night sky. Answered them in detail.

After the darkness, when I raised my head for the first time at the sky, I was literally stunned and my mind whirled for a moment or two. There were so many stars, too much of them, that I couldn’t focus my eyes at any point in the sky. My head twiddled. I took a few minutes to recover from this and started enjoying the night sky.

Had long, very long discussion on theory of evolution with Mehdi Bhai, Sajjad Bhai, Absar, and other guys. The discussion continued in many sessions with small pauses and finally we reached a common conclusion on it.

At around 9 PM, dinner was served. Tight Masaley Wali Biryani which is called “Bhatt” in Sindhi with (Finally) a strong tea with milk, which is called “Kadak Doodh Patti” in local lingo. Now I was all set for spending the night without rest.

By the time we finished dinner and tea, Mars and Arcturus had risen from East, and the two reddish heavenly bodies with nearby blue coloured star Spica was a pleasing sight.

Ramiz, Abubaker, and other photography enthusiasts went away in the fields with their toys to capture some shots of stars. They returned hours later with a treasure of starry visuals in their electronic gadgets.

Meanwhile, I was surrounded with other guys, who were enthusiastic about knowing the night sky, and I was more enthusiastic to tell them about it. In any Astronomy event, and also generally in Astronomy, I like the theory and discussions part more than the observing part. It gives me an immense pleasure to know and to understand the phenomena that make the Universe as it really is.

After observing a few galaxies through 6 inch Dobsonian telescope, I lied down on my back, opened up an Astronomy app in my mobile phone and started tracing constellations. Constellations are patterns of stars in the night sky, which are apparent only when viewed from the Earth in 2-dimensional plane. As the world is divided into countries, the night sky is divided into constellations, and this helps astronomers refer to specific parts in the night sky. There are 88 constellations in the night sky.

Winter Constellations Credit: Starry Skies

Winter Constellations
Credit: Starry Skies

Constellation Hercules

Constellation Hercules

I was lucky enough to trace complete constellations of Gemini (Twins), Canis Major (Big Dog), Hydra (The Sea Serpent), Crater (Cup), and Corvus (Crow), Leo (Lion), Ursa Major (The Big Bear), Bootes (The Herdsman), and Scorpius (The Scorpion). I also taught these constellations to other guys nearby.

 

 

As I was lying on the floor, I noticed that near constellation Coma Berenices (Hair of Berenices II) there were small fuzzy dots, closely packed with each other. To this day, I had thought that the only galaxy visible from naked eye is Messier 31 the Andromeda Galaxy, therefore I didn’t give a thought to what could be those dots. Only a few minutes later, Zain Bhai told me that those dots were galaxies in the Coma Cluster of Galaxies.

Oh my God !!! Such dark sky that I could see galaxies millions and millions of light years away with my naked eyes. That is one unforgettable moment and a joy which cannot be expressed in words.

Coma Cluster of Galaxies Image Credit: Adam Block, Mount Lemmon Sky Center

Coma Cluster of Galaxies
Image Credit: Adam Block, Mount Lemmon Sky Center

The Coma Cluster (Abell 1656) is a large cluster of galaxies that contains over 1,000 identified galaxies. Along with the Leo Cluster (Abell 1367), it is one of the two major clusters comprising the Coma Supercluster. It is located in and takes its name from the constellation Coma Berenices. The cluster’s mean distance from Earth is 99 Mega Parsecs (321 million light years). This means that light, being the fastest thing in Universe takes 321 Million Years to reach from Coma Cluster to the Earth.

At around 3 AM, almost everyone went inside the hut to sleep but few people. The telescopes were covered because they had been invaded by dew and the sky had become hazy, rendering us unable to observe anything clearly. This condition forced many astronomers to sleep, but I kept awake and kept roaming here and there.

As the dawn approached, I, Abubaker, Sajjad Bhai, Nofal Khan, and Jahanzeb made it to the fields far away from the hut to get ourselves pictured with the majestic arm of our home galaxy, Milky Way, which had just risen from East, in the constellation of Sagittarius. From a dark location, and sometimes even from light polluted metropolitan skies, you can recognize a cloudy patch, similar to the path between the fields, or Pag-Dandi, runs from constellation Sagittarius to Cygnus and to Orion, even if the sky is crystal clear, this patch will be visible in these constellations. This is the arm of our home galaxy, the Milky Way.

Milky Way Galaxy over Alamut Castle, Alborz, Iran Credit: Babak Tafreshi

Milky Way Galaxy over Alamut Castle, Alborz, Iran
Credit: Babak Tafreshi

Milky Way has got several arms (like an Octopus) which are visible towards the direction of different constellations. Our Sun is located in one such arm. The arms are made up of galactic dust and the stars, and our Sun is one of those.

Arms of Milky Way Galaxy

Arms of Milky Way Galaxy

I saw a grand, majestic, extremely beautiful collection of stars in South. Although I was unaware of the pattern of the stars, I could make out that the bright stars would be members of a certain constellation. Someone told me that this was the constellation Centaurus (Centaur). Since then, this constellation has become one of my favourites. Constellation Centaurus is a southern constellation, that is visible only in southern latitudes, and is difficult to observe in the metropolitan areas due to high-rise buildings.

Constellation Centaurus

Constellation Centaurus

Got many a shots with and of Milky Way galaxy. Soon Ramiz joined us in the fields, and he managed to capture some amazing shots.

Meanwhile, the planet Venus had risen to a considerable altitude. The sky was so dark, that for the first time ever, I could feel the light of planet Venus illuminating the venue and our faces. When the haze settled a bit, this illumination increased even more. When you are under such dark skies, you can see each others’ faces even only in starlight. Isn’t that amazing? 🙂

Astronomer Bilal, Nofal Khan, Sajjad Ahmed, Abubaker Siddiq, and Jahanzeb Panjwani, with Sagittarius Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy

Back to telescopes. Now we hurried to observe some last objects as the dawn was really close. Saw planet Saturn, planet Venus (half-phase), Messier 57 the Ring Nebula in constellation Lyra (The Harp), and double star Albireo in constellation Cygnus (The Swan). By this time, the light of morning was visible on the horizon.

Messier 57, The Ring Nebula in Constellation Lyra. Leftovers of a dead star which is somewhere in the exact center of the image.

Messier 57, The Ring Nebula in Constellation Lyra. Leftovers of a dead star which is somewhere in the exact center of the image.

The faint light which spreads horizontally in the sky around an hour and half before the sunrise, is called Al-Fajr Al-Sadiq (True Dawn) in Arabic and Subh e Sadiq in Urdu. When it is True Dawn, a creamy milky light is visible in the direction of East and is spread out to several degree from East to North and from East to South, horizontally. As soon as the True Dawn starts, its the time for Morning prayers, and when the Muslims fast in the month of Ramadan or any other time, the True Dawn marks the start of their fast and eating beyond this time voids the fast.

This was my first time to have witnessed Al-Fajr Al-Sadiq and I was really excited for this.

As the Sun rose up, we took some final shots of ourselves with the telescopes, and lined up for the breakfast. A very delicious breakfast was arranged and I ate till my brain gave me a stop signal.

Left the venue at around 9 AM. Took the same coaster and sat with Absar. But this time, there were no discussions because everyone of us was so tired of all day and all night’s exertion. I slept for some 10 minutes while coming back to the port city.

Arrived in Karachi at noon, and at 12:30 PM I was home. For this entire trip, I slept only for 10 minutes in 36 hours. My shoes proved to be rather uneasy, and I had deep marks of penetration on my feet due to them. But I was really happy to have made it to one of the most beautiful nights of my life, an experience which I will never forget. For even today while writing this post, the lovely sight of Constellation Centaur is flashing in front of my eyes 🙂

Group photo of Karachi Astronomers Society. I am in pink shirt, sitting in first row.

Group photo of Karachi Astronomers Society. I am in pink shirt, sitting in first row.

World Space Week 2012 with MUET and SUPARCO – Day of 10th October

  • Solar Astronomy Session at Mehran University of Engineering and Technology as part of World Space Week 2012 celebrations.
  • Met officials of MUET and Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO).
  • Open Day, many stalls were setup by different people.
  • Water rocket competition, model designing, and others.
  • We too setup the telescope at stall reserved for us.

Setting up the telescope

  • Soon, students from different schools of city, and those of Mehran started visiting our stall.
  • Had placed a solar filter in the telescope, showed the people “Sun” through it.
  • Session continued from morning to about 3 PM.
  • Lots of visitors, more than 300.
  • Everyone enjoyed.
  • Questions about Dark Matter, Parallel Universe, Mass Variation (Special Relativity).
  • Packed up the stuff and moved to auditorium.
  • Listened to final words from organizers and SUPARCO officials.
  • Back home. Really an excellent event.
  • Big THANKS goes to MUET and SUPARCO for their help and support.

Children looking at the Sun

 

The Hyderabad Astronomical Society: (L to R) Zeeshan Ahmad, Amjad Nizamani, Astronomer Bilal