My Journey with ATP

Posted on November 29, 2010
Filed Under >Mast Qalandar, About ATP
Total Views: 89290


Mast Qalandar (MQ)

It was the summer of 2006. I was in the US on a short visit, but my stay, unexpectedly, stretched a bit too long, and I started missing Islamabad, my home for the last 12 years. A friend told me to look up this new blog, All Things Pakistan (ATP), started by Professor Adil Najam, then at Tufts University. It was interesting, he said, and talked about things I might like.

Frankly, then, I didn’t quite know what a blog was, or how it worked. Nor did I know Adil Najam. I knew of him, though, as a TV show host in Pakistan, many years ago. On the show, he came across as a ‘quant’ or nerd. Remember those smart, young college students who wore round, wire-rimmed glasses and could align the Rubik Cube in no time? Perhaps it was the round glasses he wore (unless my memory is playing tricks on me), or the efficient manner in which he conducted his TV program that led me to form that impression. Later, I also found that Adil was a graduate of MIT. “Quants” always impressed me, particularly so when they had been to MIT, the Mecca of  “quants.” (Another member of the then ATP editorial team, Bilal Zuberi, was also an MIT  “quant.”)

My own memories of MIT, as a visitor, are not all pleasant, though. I was robbed at gunpoint in the vicinity of the campus, in front of the Hyatt Regency hotel, for the first time in my life – and hopefully the last. This was back in the late 1980s. But that does not detract in any way from the importance of MIT as a place of learning or, for that matter, from the skills and knowledge of MIT graduates.  By the way, I have had other, much more satisfying, associations with MIT. But I am digressing.

The other member of ATP’s editorial team, Owais Mughal, I gathered from his initial posts, was also a “quant” – an engineer, a numbers person. I formed this impression from his earlier posts, which were mostly about railway Engines, railway stations, bridges and tunnels – and cricket scores. Sometime, as if to get away form engineering and numbers, he wrote about goats (bakras) and cooking.

Anyway, when I looked up the ATP’s website, I liked it. It talked of Pakistan that I could identify with. Some of its earlier posts were about PIA of the days of Momi Gul Durrani, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Mehdi Hassan, Lollywood, Tangay wala Khair mangda, Maula Jatt, etc. These topics evoked nostalgia, and many ATP readers loved to walk down the memory lane and talk about the world they had left behind. ATP provided a good forum to reminisce about those times and things. It also inspired me to write for ATP.

I wrote my first post, The Caps of Pakistan, in November 2006, almost exactly four years ago. I wrote the first two or thee paragraphs while waiting to see my doctor, at the Hospital of University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Expecting a long wait, I had brought my laptop with me. (I never found the magazines in doctors’ waiting rooms — or barbers’ salons — inspiring reads). And I am glad I had the laptop, because it was a particularly long wait that day. It kick started my “writing career.” I ended up writing two dozens or more posts for in the following months for ATP.

Interestingly, during all this time I never met or spoke to either Adil or Owais. My contact with them was only through emails, except once when I received a missed call on my phone from a number that I didn’t recognize. When I called back, Owais answered and was surprised to hear from me. He confessed he hadn’t called; that it must have been his young son who probably pressed the number while playing with the phone. And that was that.

Writing for a blog, I found, was exciting. What made it particularly stimulating was the immediate response it evoked from readers from virtually around the world. And ATP managed to attract a bunch of  lively and loyal commenters who would show up regularly and bring something new to the table – new information, new data, new insight, a new song, a video, poetry, humor, or new something that added value to the ongoing discussion. In fact what made ATP interesting, and different from other blogs, was the quality of its comments.

Some of the names of the regular commenters from early days of ATP that readily crop up in my memory are:

  • Adnan Ahmad, whose posts and comments prompted me to write on Ghalib and Manto.
  • Ahmed who changed to Ahmed2 – he would quote Ghalib, Faiz, Shelley, Wordsworth or Walter Scott with equal ease and effect. My diary has many verses that I picked up from his comments, and, later, from personal exchange of emails. I found him a goldmine of information and poetry, both Urdu and English. Had he not pursued his career that he did, very successfully, too, and had opted instead for teaching, he would have made an excellent professor of literature – or even become a good poet and writer. Thanks to ATP that I got to know him.
  • Ahsan (ahsan), who later became AHsn.  I always suspected he was a professor of Physics or Mathematics, particularly when, in response to a post, he wrote an elaborate mathematical formula to determine the direction of the Qibla. His formula, I thought, was more complex than the Binomial theorem I battled with, unsuccessfully, in our First Year Algebra. By the time you figured his formula, the time for namaz-e-mghrib would have lapsed.
  • Akif Nizam was always a pithy commenter with an ability to silence the unruly commenters with few, well-chosen words.
  • For the more unruly variety, we had Omar R Quraishi, blunt as a hammer, who hit the nail on the nose.
  • Talking of unruly commenters, there were very few, and they appeared only when there was a reference to religion, direct or remote. (Let’s face it, there is no escape from religion when talking about Pakistan, be it its history, culture, politics, scientific achievements — anything. After all, it’s not for nothing that they named the country Islamic Republic.)
  • Then there were Anwar; Aqil Sajjad; Bhupinder; Daktar; Deeda-i-Beena; Eidee Man; Humaira; Pervaiz Munir Alvi; Roshan, the Seraiki specialist); Samdani; Sridhar; Lal salaam, whose comments were consistent with his name; Tina, a professor of literature in the bush country (?); Watan Aziz; and YLH, who not only ignited fires but also doused them, like a fire hydrant, by drowning the opponents in his arguments.

They all made ATP worth visiting, and added value to each discussion.

I sound as if I am talking of a bygone era, and not just the last four years. In digital age four years seems like ages. Many of the earlier ATP commenters seem to have vanished from the discussion board, or do not visit that frequently.  I wonder why? Is it that the novelty of blogging has worn off, or the political scene in Pakistan has changed, or is it something else? I think it could be all these and  some more reasons:

  • One, blogs have proliferated. Even the online editions of English newspapers have become interactive blogs, providing many many forums where people can express their views.
  • Two, numerous TV talk shows, which are also available online, provide vicarious satisfaction to people who want to vent their feelings about the different political issues in Pakistan.
  • Three, there are so many new communication tools competing for readers’ attention: Facebook, YouTube, texting, tweeting, skyping, and they keep coming.

Facebook has given rise to a whole new generation of mostly young people who love to communicate, but have a short attention span, different reading habits and don’t bother much about the old-fashioned formalities of the language. ATP has developed a considerable following of Facebookers of its own.

The other day, out of curiosity, I looked up the profiles of some of the ATP Facebookers. They were mostly young, 20 something, and their interests and hobbies sounded very different, I guess, from the ATP commenters of yore. Talk of generation gap! Here are a few examples:

A:  a college graduate, introduces himself in these words:

“hOw 2 DeScRiBe mA sElF ??? Em [name] eM FrndLy n JollY persOn.. Attitude 2 da nose!! aLwAyZ ChILLiN….n i Luv My BuDdiEs n i cant c PeOpLe SaD aRoUnD M3…I HATE LIARS — eM real moody…”
“Em siNcerE wiD mA frNdz aNd dEy all eNjOy mA coMpaNy…. ovErall eM a cHill perSoN n u ll nEvA gEt bOred ven ur wid mE…….so daZ ME”

Translated into plain English, it would read:

“How to describe myself? I’m (name), a friendly and jolly person. Always chilling and I love my buddies and I can’t see people sad around me. I hate liars, am real moody. Am sincere with my friends and they all enjoy my company … over all am a chill person and you’ll never get bored when you are with me. So that’s me.”

Among the books he likes are:

“Quran, poetry, romance, novels, world history, The Guns of August and Twilight.”

B:  is a student of Edwardes College Peshawar, who lists his activities as:

“Sleeping, college, using new cell phones and laptops. My status may say I’m single … but it doesn’t mean I’m interested. My head says no. My heart says go. Why is life so complicated?”

Among the books he likes, he lists only the Holy Quran.

C : is based in London, is a college graduate and lists among his activities: “Tease (sic), driving fast and seven more.”

Among his favorite books: “Gladiator, Quran and principles of marketing.” (Not necessarily in that order, I assume.)

D: a young woman, a BBA, lists her activities as:

“Sura Al-Baqarah, Benjamin Sisters and 50 more.”

Among her favorite books, she lists:

“Holy Quran, Hadiths, horror movies and fairy tales.”

ATP’s challenge, it seems, is how to entertain and benefit – and also benefit from – the two streams of its readers, the “old” and the new?

It can be a popular meeting place; say, a tea house – lively, occasionally noisy but not rowdy – where people came, exchanged news, ideas, stories and jokes, as it was in the first two or three years, or it can become a fast food joint where people pick up their takeaways and leave, texting, tweeting, phoning – all at the same time. Or, perhaps, somehow, combine the traditional and the unconventional. I am sure Adil and his team must be thinking about this.

Meanwhile, I would love to resume my journey with ATP, but the question is what to write about: A love tale, a horror story, or something about sacred and divine?

32 Comments on “My Journey with ATP”

  1. Bhupinder says:
    November 29th, 2010 5:33 pm

    Thanks for the mention and for remembering.

    It has been a pleasure to read and follow ATP over the last few years. It personally impacted me in changing my views about Jinnah. As I read a number of posts here, I realized how one- sided my own knowledge about him had been. A big thank you to everyone in the team !

  2. HarOON says:
    November 29th, 2010 5:35 pm

    Saw this flash as “My Journey with ATP” on my Twitter feed and rushed here thinking it was Prof. Najam’s tell all on the adventures of running ATP (have been waiting for that). Was a little disappointed at first, but not really because it is good to see MQ back after a long time. Welcome back, MQ.

  3. Daktar says:
    November 29th, 2010 6:17 pm

    Nice one, MQ. (Although some of us never really ‘left’).
    Yes many things have changed. But the one thing that remains is that no other blog gets the type of readership and passion from readers as this one. Even the ones who keep finding faults seem to have a belonging for ATP. Everywhere else blogs fragment to one ideology or one political or social view. But ATP remains a ‘big tent’ and that is what has always made it special.

  4. Watan Aziz says:
    November 29th, 2010 6:18 pm

    MQ, glad you are back.

    As always, the only thing missing while reading your post is a hooka in winters. Come to think of it, “lassi” in summer would be just right too.

    Since you mentioned me, I must correct that am a recent entrant. I think you may be tagging me with someone else.

    Regardless, ATP is a wonderful watering hole. Frankly, sometimes, (and more often than not) I go back and read the columns and posts of the earlier era. Most all have gone on to other ventures. I wish they would come back and give this place the same quality input (good seeds, water and plentiful nourishments) that made ATP what it is today. PMA, you hear?

    And my side prayer is for Adil just as well. I hope he comes back to the real Adil and not get bedazzled by the glamor and the chumminess that comes with it which seems to (me at least) compromise his ideas and ideals. We cannot afford to lose him to the dark side. I know in his heart, he is good.

    That said, write what comes to your mind, but do write. It is clear from this post, that the simple is not mundane with you!

  5. Junaid says:
    November 29th, 2010 6:29 pm

    Like you I also often go to the ATP Facebook page just to amuse myself with the comments there. And I never miss when those comments are posted here by the all knowing ‘ATP Administrator’. I cannot say I really understand half of them or where they are coming from. But I guess they come from a world very different from my own. Even though a world as Pakistani as my own. So, I am glad they have joined the bandwagon too.

  6. Nihari says:
    November 29th, 2010 6:49 pm

    Bhai Qalandar

    mein tu samjha tum nikal liya…yaar jaana mat….himaqat kay samandar mien aqal kay kuch jazeeray honay chahiyay

  7. ASAD says:
    November 29th, 2010 6:58 pm

    You may be falling into your own trap of nostalgia. ATP is bigger, better, more representative of all of Pakistan than ever before. I hope Adil Bhai will never ‘chose’ between the old and the new. That will be tragic and will make this just one more blog.

    I like reading Watan Aziz’s rants, but frankly a blog that Watan Aziz likes will be read only by Watan Aziz, and maybe not even by him. I would much rather read his rants on a blog that he can rant about but feels compelled to come to every day and rant.

    So, Adil bhai, please don’t change anything. Don’t let people of any stripes to convince you to give up on or kick out other people whose stripes are different.

  8. Eidee Man says:
    November 29th, 2010 6:58 pm

    Great post. I remain a regular follower of ATP, however I don’t comment nearly as much — I view that as a good thing! :-)

    Also, I’m glad someone else finds the holier-than-thou items on Facebook profiles amusing — I have seen the Quran mentioned in the same field as some decidedly anti-Quran things. Not that I’m judging, but something tells me they did not intentionally go for that effect.

  9. Lal Salaam says:
    November 29th, 2010 6:59 pm

    Welcome back MQ. What a good laugh I had after a long long time. You have got to come back and start writing.

  10. Pakistani says:
    November 29th, 2010 7:05 pm

    This post itself is a testament to the uniqueness of this blog and that it will last this long and keep so many people engaged so long. I have always been amazed at how Adil Najam does it in addition to everything else he seems to be doing and has to be very busy with. But I think his contribution is really keeping a platform going that brings in seasonal guests like MQ as well as more permanent ones like Owais Mughal. And then perpetual observers like myself who have been watching this guy in amazement ever since he was a college student in Islamabad.

  11. Naveed says:
    November 29th, 2010 7:57 pm

    The most important difference is that the world of blogs has changed. There are so very many now. And many of them are themselves inspired by ATP. ATP set the trends and the style and pattern that many others followed. In fact, many of them were started by people who started off first by commenting here. As you say, now every newspaper is also trying to be a blog and I think they are also trying to follow ATP and sometimes even steal ideas from here I think. Nothing wrong with any of that, I think. But most of them tend to be much narrower than ATP and many are very sensationalist running after getting more hits.

    To me, ATP is to Pakistani blogs what Dawn used to be to Pakistani newspapers.

  12. Aqil says:
    November 29th, 2010 10:47 pm

    Glad to see another post from you, MQ, and thanks for remembering me and the others. :)
    I never really “left” but don’t comment or follow the comments as closely now.

  13. Adnan says:
    November 29th, 2010 11:59 pm

    Where were you? my Friend? Were you in some bin or coming out from a rehab? It’s been long time!!

  14. Samdani says:
    November 30th, 2010 12:15 am

    Thanks for the mention. And welcome back.
    Like the others, I also never left. Actually, I do not think that a single day has passed in the last 5 years that I have not visited this blog, many times a day usually. But I did stop commenting. Other people, younger and angrier than me came in and it was best to give them the space. The topics and the politics also got angrier. But I have always appreciated the mehfil they put up here at ATP and wouldn’t miss it for anything.

  15. Samdani says:
    November 30th, 2010 12:16 am

    I would also not change anything. Its good the way it is. Us old timers should learn to appreciate the new ways of the new comers.

  16. Roshan says:
    November 30th, 2010 12:37 am

    MQ thanks for your overview of ATP history and I felt it more a reunion than a post….Yes, we seldom comment but regularly visit ATP.
    I think we need to comment on our ATP more frequently as we did in the past. However we should appreciate and admire Dr. Adil and Owais for their commitment and consistency, though the old ATPians are not commenting that frequently.

  17. November 30th, 2010 2:14 am

    great post ;)

  18. Naveed Abbas says:
    November 30th, 2010 3:51 am

    ATP is a great medium and not a “squandered oppurtunity” to visit wholesome; a nourishing food for head and heart. My best wishes to the dedicated team of ATP and their work for greater good.

  19. Hina says:
    November 30th, 2010 8:42 am

    MQ, blog about a Horror Story- I am in a mood for it.

  20. Lateef says:
    November 30th, 2010 10:58 am

    The facebook crowd is at once voyeristic and scantimonius. Most are lying about their names, putting other people’s pictures as their own, posing as girls when they are not an putting up stolen pictures of sexiness on their profile, and yet talking religion and all so pious all the time. The hypocrisy within society is on display.

  21. Adnan A says:
    November 30th, 2010 11:23 am

    A joy to read this, MQ. 4 ½ years is a long time in this digital age but I still remember that summer of 06 when Bilal shared with his class mates Adil’s edited video and this blog. I came and then I never left. It used to be that when commenting I would have an audience of 6-8 people in mind; now I know that audience has multiplied by manifolds and it is wise to practice restraint in what I write here or how often. I see that almost all original regulars are practicing that restraint. A few weeks ago I had a fear that this blog may get deviated from the path chosen earlier but soon after that fear was gone. That was because Adil and Owais listen, and that’s what make them and this blog different. Adil Najam is one of the few people I look up to (strange to write about someone I have known only through this blog) and I pray that he stays the same in the way he has run this blog with Owais. On a lighter note, who knew that a nerdy looking host (yes it was the glasses) who would get stuck on the word tamgha (taghma) one day while covering SAF games on PTV could be so towering and prolific later on in life.

    Samdani’s comment should be taken as feedback by other commenters. And I ask him to join the discourse here like he used to.

    I end with perhaps the finest lines written by Amjad Islam Amjad;
    Waqt se kaun kahe, yaar, zara aahista
    Gar nahi wasl, to ye khaab-e-rafaqat hi zara dair rukey

  22. Deeda-e-Beena says:
    November 30th, 2010 1:40 pm

    Thanks for an interesting Post, full of Nostalgia which I too share.
    As for your last question: What to write?
    My suggestion is: Write anything as long as it fits within ALL THINGS PAKISTAN!

  23. Farrukh says:
    November 30th, 2010 10:45 pm

    You are being unfair on the Facebook readers.

    I have been following ATP from its beginning but now I follow it mostly via Facebook. That is what tells me when the new posts come. I do not follow the comments on Facebook but come (via FB) to this page for the comments, but ATP on Facebook has become my door to Pakistaniat.

  24. Ahmed2 says:
    November 30th, 2010 11:20 pm

    Dear MQ:
    You have asked what you should write about– a love tale, a horror story, or something sacred and divine? Please do, do write about love… you deal with it so well. Need I remind you of Ghalib:

    Ishq say hum nay zeest ka maza paya
    Dard ki dawa pa’ie dard la dawa paya

  25. Sridhar says:
    December 1st, 2010 12:07 am


    Nice to see this walk through memory lane. It was kind of you to mention me. I have enjoyed your posts over these years. I was personally first invited to this forum by Owais, who is a friend of many years (our friendship started with our shared interest in Railways – I was very interested in the history of the Karachi Circular Railway, and even created and published online a map of the line many years ago). I have enjoyed the posts of several authors here – Adil for his sensible posts on current affairs, Owais for his fun-filled posts (including recipes and memories from childhood Karachi), you for the blend of culture and history that you bring in and many others.

    Why have commentators gone away. Partly because novelty has worn off. Partly because of fatigue with writing comments in a crowd (when there were fewer people, it was easier to engage in elaborate discussions). Partly because there are competing avenues (even other blogs). Partly because people’s lives change (marriage, kids etc.). But I do think a majority of those original commentators continue to visit and read even if they don’t write comments (I certainly do).

    As to what you should write about – I would love to read pretty much anything you would like to write – it is such a pleasure to read.

    Once again, it is a pleasure to read your post again.

  26. December 1st, 2010 4:19 am

    ATP is my favorite Blog website.

  27. AHsn says:
    December 1st, 2010 10:34 am

    Dear M.Q.

    I am very glad that the prodigious son has come back. In Urdu it will be:

    خیر سے بدّھو گھر کو آ ئے

    Welcome back. Actually, you had never been out of our sight. Your absence has given you a
    better understanding of your old friends at ATP. At least that is what the impression I got. Your remark concerning me is not very far from the reality. I am not a Mathematician but a simple Physicist (Theory).. The Mathematics had been my tool of profession. If you wish I can send to you my short CV!

    You have given a fair description of many old timers. But there is one group which has not been given proper treatment. Yes, I remember very well those who “appeared only when there was a reference to religion”.. You treat each one of them as “unruly commenter” which is certainly false. I have a good memory of Ibrahim (or was it Ibraheem but certainly not Abraham!) who was always very respectful towards any other commenter. I remember of Adnan Siddiqi who used to defend the True Islam. I still do not know what the True Islam is! But he was frank and straight person. I had some enjoyable and frank discussion with him. Even to my rude statements he responded in friendly terms.

    There was a time when you were treating him BROTHER Adnan Siddiqi..
    کبھی تم میں اس میں بھی پیار تھا
    کبھی تم بھی وہ بھی تھے آ شنا
    تمھیں یاد ہو کہ نا یاد ہو!!
    AHsn (Ahsan)

  28. SAM says:
    December 2nd, 2010 12:28 pm

    it was a way way long ago when i got to knew about this blog.i was in college i guess..i read about this blog in dawn news in which there was an interview of adil najam were descirbing about the social phenomenas and as well as he mentioned his blog.Gawsh i just realized that it was back in 2006.time flies..:(i love this blog ..i want to write so many thing about this blog but gawsh these accountancy exams hve seriously affected my old memories ..:(

  29. Watan Aziz says:
    December 2nd, 2010 10:36 pm


    It is with deep regret, I have to inform you that your posts have mislead us. Your writings about the Heer Ranjha, Taxila, etcetera all predate August 14, 1947.

    The “gitter-mitter” crowd has delivered their latest “git-pit” that anything or anyone constituting before Independence is not Pakistani.

    This explains their love for “I-Slammed-Everyone-Else-Abad”. A post independence city.

    This also explains whey Mai Jori Jamali does not have clean water. Her mother “traveled” 2 miles before Independence and therefore she should too and so should her daughter. It is all good.

    Yes, yes, I have asked Khalid Abbas Dar to talk with the “gitter-mitter” crowd. He has established communication with them. People can see how he talks with this “gitter-mitter” crowd on Youtube or by looking up Khalid Abbas Dar, His Brilliant Best on this site.

    So, please, write often, but only about things Pakistaniat; ahem, post Independence.

  30. Humaira says:
    December 2nd, 2010 11:04 pm

    Good to see you back. Hope we will see more soon.

    I came later than you I think but I have stayed. Must say that I have developed a thick skin over this time and I think the comments can often become a distraction. I think in the early year the comments were more conversations and enjoyable, now people seem to be shouting and constantly angry and in need to Prozac. People used to argue before also and passions would be high depending on topic. But now some people are just permanently mean-spirited and keep at it again and again and again, they can be annoying and mean and just plain forever negative. Often I wish the ATP editors would do more moderation. They used to do more quality control and moderation but now do less. Only times I have ever thought of stopping to come here is because of these mean-spirited comments from people who seem to think they know everything and keep shoving it down other people’s throats like spoiled brats. I, for one, would like editors to be more strict in moderation with these annoying and mean-spirited cynics.

  31. Ayesha says:
    December 5th, 2010 6:03 pm

    Maybe I am different from others, but the comments are NOT what brings me to ATP each day. I come because I know that Owais Mughal and Adil Najam will always have a surprise for me. Something to make me think, something I did not know, something I should know. Sometimes the comments add to this, but mostly the comments are a reminder of the pettiness and meanness of most parha likha Pakistanis. And it does not matter what their political views are, for examples the three most petty and mean commenters on ATP, lets call them W, Y and A are libertarian, liberal and conservative in their views but are equally annoying always. Luckily the posts on ATP are a reminder that not all of Pakistan is like that. So, I come here not for the commenters but despite them.

  32. Adnan Ahmad says:
    December 6th, 2010 1:59 pm

    Just to get an idea of how big this blog has gotten, the above post from MQ
    has 17000 hits in 3 years. And this post in about a week has over 20000 hits. Incredible.

    For a few angrier commenters (as Samdani put it) Jaun Elia had said and it is worth understanding and pondering over for not just this blog but for everything else in life:

    nazar par baar ho jaatey hein manzar
    jahan rahyyo wahan aksar na rahyyo
    (meaning jahan rehna wahan aksar na rehna)

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