The last couple of months have been quite eventful for me – so much so that I did not get time to write a blog post even though I had much to report…
In January, for the second time in two years, I found myself in Davos, a town with the superpower of making regular people feel invisible (I should have borrowed Bilawal’s Superman T-shirt). Nestled in the Swiss Alps about 2 hours from Zurich Airport, Davos has played host to the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) for so long that its name has become synonymous with this annual event. And what indeed is the World Economic Forum? While a detailed introduction from its founder Professor Claus Schwab may be found at http://www.weforum.org/our-mission, the simple yet astounding mission of this remarkable organization is that they are ‘committed to improving the state of the world’. Plain and simple. Clearly the Swiss do not subscribe to the British understatement.
Davos is perhaps the only place on earth where all forms of celebrities unite in uneasy proximity – from Hollywood royalty to real royalty; from heads of state to the shining stars of the business and tech worlds and just about everyone else in between. However, while celebrity-spotting is an unacknowledged sport at Davos, it is not a very competitive one because so many people attending the Annual Meeting are instantly recognizable – from Matt Damon and Goldie Hawn and Bono leading the ‘entertainment sector’ this year to David Cameron, John Kerry, Al Gore, and many more… For those with purely capitalist concerns, the likes of Bill Gates and Sir Richard Branson featured in many talks ranging from trade policy to climate change and poverty alleviation.
Amidst this constellation of global leaders, who was missing? None other than Mr Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan, who had confirmed his attendance at the Annual Meeting months ago, only to back out days before (though, having witnessed Mr Yusuf Raza Gilani field questions regarding Pakistan’s response to its floods on a panel discussion on disaster risk management in Davos in 2012 – I think it was probably a case of ‘personal disaster risk management’ that Mr Sharif decided to stay out of the limelight.) As a consequence, Pakistan was amongst the few countries that was not adequately represented at this important gathering. (The ostensible reason for Mr Sharif’s absence was the January attack on security personnel in Bannu… but word has it that Mr Sharif’s office lost contact with the World Economic Forum’s staff much before that.)
While I encountered a number of important people (who I’m sure were less thrilled to meet me), there is one such incident that stands out in my mind. An impressive shuttle bus network connects the various Davos hotels and ‘third-party venues’ with each other and the main Congress Center. One evening, while returning from a sparingly-attended ‘Pakistan Community Dinner’ with Fabien Clerc (WEF manager and friend), our small shuttle bus stopped at one of the appointed stops (which, I suppose, is what shuttle buses do..) and in stepped a very elegantly dressed lady. Davos decorum requires delegates to exchange pleasantries – even if that were not customary, it is not possible to simply ignore someone seated directly across you (the shuttle buses just have a long sedan-like seat with 2 facing bucket seats). It turned out that our ‘hum-safar’ was the First Lady of a small European nation (which shall remain nameless). When I enquired out of genuine surprise why she was not being transported in a private car like all the other heads of state/government and their spouses, she replied “my husband is not officially attending Davos this year so we didn’t want to burden the Swiss government with cars and security detail, you know!” Actually I did not know. When I asked where the husband was, I was in for another surprise. She was supposed to pick him him at the train station tomorrow, where he was arriving as her spouse! She asked Fabien for directions to the Davos train station. (Attempts at juxtaposition with our own VVIPS are simply inadequate.)
In more recent news, the Pak Rupee has finally shown some solid gains over the US Dollar (fashionably referred to as the greenback by seasoned commentators – which I am not). My excitement was temporarily punctured by my gym trainer who cheekily said to me ‘Aap ka toh bohat Loss hua ho ga, dollar neechay aa geya hae!” I resisted the urge to slap him in the knowledge that he’d probably increase the speed on the treadmill. The truth is, I am beyond thrilled that the Rupee is gaining on the Dollar for a change. I hope it is a sign of better times for the country.
April 3: 2 months later, after whirlwind visits to Dubai, Sahiwal, Okara, Karachi, and several schools in Lahore, I am back in Europe for a few days (ah, the trials and tribulations of heading Beaconhouse!) – currently whizzing underwater in a ‘Eurostar’ train in a tunnel that connects the UK with France and the rest of Western Europe. I have no doubt that such advancements in transport would be greatly appreciated by our ever-enterprising prime minister! (I hear the World Transport Conference is looking to fill a spot on a panel discussion? If so, they have better luck than the World Economic Forum.)
Until next time, dear readers, whenever that is… For now, I can barely believe that the first quarter of 2014 already belongs to the past. Is it just me, or didn’t this year just begin?