NERC 2014 – III: Final Knockout

“What is your greatest fear?”
“The robot stops working in the eleventh hour.”

 

I am from Team Rigel. The year is 2014. And the arena is alive.

 

Mini NERC left us with pieces to pick up from the very floor we began our work. We started from scratch again. Perfectionists as we were; leaving no stone unturned and no spare BJT un-burnt.

 

Our final exams ended in a week and there it was; our sixth semester successfully completed. Two weeks to go till the final drumroll of NERC. There was anticipation, the general fear and the familiar adrenaline rush. We were back in the arena before we knew it. It felt like we never left. Funny how sometimes it still feels that way.

I look through the left window of the hall. The highway is as indifferent as ever. I watch people saunter along the pavement, and buses and hi-aces drifting along, like the wind. Peshawar Road is forever changing yet it looks like any other day. Just like here.
But in here, we’ve been hiding from the sun for far too long. And in this case, literally. We’d enter the department in the morning, leave it under nightfall.
This is the small summary of our days and nights. Heck, I wouldn’t be doing anything else if I could. This is our arena-calling.

 

Fourteenth of July, I notice new faces. Teams arrive in the College. It’s finally happening. The arena reeks of new activity and robots. Guys, this is war.

 

Sixteen of July, we move to the auditorium. The arena is fresh and waiting to be rubbed, bumped and hit. It also means more code tweaking and head-banging in the wall. We obediently follow suit.

I face the auditorium, the seats are empty and the lights are out. There are two neat columns of (rows and rows of) seats colored blue and red. Maybe you begin to see the arena everywhere. The stage sports the arena, a couple of College teams and one classy pedestal fan. There’s no electricity; dark, hot and hopeless, alright. The flashing blue and green signals resume as we climb the stage and throw our baggage on the floor.

A little nod to my teammate who takes the robot and the code in his able hands for the zillionth time because unlike me he still could tell the difference between AND and OR operators, and remember what we are doing. I kind of lost track in the middle. Okay, I would lose track, alot. I retired to just admire the stage, flashing lights and the colliding robots. I used to be normal-and-functioning a time ago.

 

July the eighteenth, it is the weighing-and-measuring-the-robot day. The department’s corridors shines like glazed paper – and I wonder what are they using these days – and smells heavily of protocol. I walk through the hallway of the first corridor and barge into MTS-05. This is where my friends and I camped in when we were in the décor team for NERC ’12.

I remember vividly, the fear of wondering what my NERC would be like, I would dread it and wonder about mere survival; it was a big deal. It still is, as I look at the art-inflicted walls and oil-sprayed floors, I wake up to 2014 and know that it’s the team and the people without which all this would have been like the red arena. Because the truth is, they’re even better than the blue one.

 

We make it to the Heats-day. The crowd sits in the auditorium, scattered and attentive; sleepless nights and June’s humid days doesn’t dampen any spirits. There is a general murmur and the occasional outbursts of manliness. I sit with my team on the right side of the auditorium and try to keep cool. The commentary/comparing doesn’t make sense to me and everything just fuzzes my brain. I make a mental note to ask my team how they are still sane and keeping calm. My teammate asks me what my favorite color is and I cross out that mental note because I figure he’s a goner too. But boy was I ever wrong.

An hour later we are on the stage. We all take our usual places.

Dr. Faraz asks, “Ready?”

Ghazanfer assures, “Ready,” and the timer starts.

Path C is lit by the green signal. The whistle blows and he turns it on. It is just like practice. The robot glides through Zone 1, rolls into the slot, bowls those damn pins, rolls out with effortless ease and runs to the exit through Zone 2.

Record timing and no misbehaving. I hear the crowd erupt in applause but it’s still fuzzed out. I reckon it’s the shock. The color retains in the auditorium and I can breathe again. Out of the hundred and one things that could go wrong, nothing did. Everything was right. It was perfect.
We stay a bit long; sit with the audience, blending perfectly. Share some nervous laughter about those hundred and one things, and marvel at the robot’s timing. We watch other teams’ heats. There is some kickass bowling and some howling from the crowd. I leave the auditorium before nightfall.

 

A day before the NERC, June the twentieth. This sentence is too heavy to be dissected so I’ll leave it at that. The security goes a bit bonkers too: your water bottles and food is a potential security threat so you dispose everything outside the auditorium if you want in. And I am afraid, we did want in.

The results are announced at 3.30 pm. Dr. Faraz asks about the presence of different teams by announcing university names who came for this year’s NERC. The auditorium sports a larger crowd today.
He asks, “UET LAHORE?” Some people cheer. “AIR UNIVERSITY?” Cheering in response and hand-raising. “GIKI?” More cheers and hands follow suit. List of teams and colleges’ names are announced finally – “College of E&ME?” I laugh and raise my hand, amidst a lot of applause, hand-raising and cheering from our department’s crowd.
That moment was overwhelming: the sense of belonging and feeling like home here, was a milestone that we achieved. It is one of the best things that NERC gave me.

The flow chart is displayed. We beat everybody’s timing. I see our name on top. It was surreal. Bizarre. So Rigel is on the first position; 32 teams battling for the title and all that jazz.

We start after the NERC dinner. I couldn’t taste the food nor listen to any talk. The mind would transport to the same place, the same code and the same signal. And as the wind would disturb the water’s surface of the pool, and as the crowd would erupt into another applause, as another song would be sung and echo off the pool-side’s walls and a timely blackout would mark its attendance, I’d wonder about tomorrow and how it would change everything. And that there’s no changing that. You know that verse from “If” by Kipling? It goes like this:

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools

It sums it all up.

After managing to let a sky lantern in the wind – and setting fire to the previous one – we head to the auditorium round about eleven pm. I find that despite NERC swinging on our heads like a double edged sword, our year’s worth of work hanging by a thread, the department wants to do a dress rehearsal for the crowd’s entertainment tomorrow. I gape at the absurdity of the situation as faculty ushers us off the stage and proceeds with robots doing gangman style and make witty dialogue (they were cool, yeah but then we deal with robots all the time). There was a flying quadcopter too but hey, don’t judge me if I don’t forgive easy for that night.

When we finally have the stage to take some runs, my team isn’t there. I go to the back of the auditorium and see them with the robot. Waseem is holding the top, hinged open, torch in the other hand, Ghazanfer is checking something to do with the circuit and dread finds me very conveniently. I ask and I hope he says koi masla nahi hai.

“Kya masla hai?”

“H-Bridge jal gaya hai.”

Anwaar enters through the door leading to the Ante Room and says something that my mind doesn’t register. I look at the ceiling and I ask why. The ceiling looks like a replica of this swimming pool that I saw in a city. I loved its length and depth. This one looks just like it: inverted but infinite. The moment’s realization horrifies me but when I look at the majestic cascading steps of plastic and medallions at the ceiling, the problem seems less terrifying. But then, you should ask the one who was fixing the electronics.

There is another blackout. We succumb to the Ante Room for light. Windless, humid night, the clock spinning out of control; it’s 1 am, 2am, 3am and finally quarter to four that we head back to the arena. The night before NERC, our H-bridge decides to do what it never did; fail. Again and again. I’d ask my teammate but I think he lost count too. I wonder how he didn’t lose track or his mind or just set fire to it after constantly replacing BJTS, checking H-bridges, closing the top then reopening it because a wire would be disconnected or the BJT would burn out.

We came a long way.

I look at the robot and then I look at my teammate. Both are trying to get their way. The robot keeps giving up on him but he doesn’t give up on it. This was the defining point. We hit bottom; raw, merciless bottom. Now there was nothing to be afraid of. I owe it to the team. And if you’re reading this, know that you got us through it all.

We manage to take a couple of runs and staff arrives by 5am to throw us out to sweep the arena with lubricants and shashka to make it clear as crystal and smooth as silk; It is a big screaming “beat that!” in our faces. We gape in horror for a moment, shrug, and then surrender.

 

June, twenty-freaky-one, today feels like living in the red arena: painful, unpredictable and ridiculous. This is the last stop of this roller-coaster we boarded back in September.

We are in the auditorium. After loads of needless waiting outside of the auditorium and silent swearing at being treated as potential security threats, made to leave our baggage behind, denying us entry without the NERC card – irrespective if we had our College IDs or not – that some people never even heard of and being treated like crap we finally were allowed to head back in. I thought somebody was going to punch somebody; that I might initiate the offensive.

Guests and students begin to file in. I see my grandparents in the crowd and I am so happy to see them here; all the talk about NERC and all those nights coming home late and all those missing out on things, they’d finally see what I’ve been working on and I could tell they were just as thrilled.

Head to head matches. This is blunt knocking-out. The team at position 1 competes with the team at position 32. The team at position 2 competes with the team at position 31 and so on.

We are first to go but the team up against us never arrive. I wonder what went through their mind. I am sure they rubbed their noses raw for their robot but I kept wondering why they didn’t come. You should always give it a shot. Those guys were good. I saw their robot in the arena. It had a helluva speed. Because their team didn’t arrive, we qualify for the top 16 teams.
Firefly, we missed you.

I see my friends compete in the arena as we wait our turn. A shout-out to Team Gravity for their amazing, amazing work! You make me immensely proud.

There’s another favorite team of mine: Toad. I have seen their team work; the leader’s a genius. The robot runs beautifully like a horse. I think I hear silent neighing in my head when it moves. It gallops.

I watch J-Bot and Invictus compete with each other. Both robots belong to the same team. They worked on two robots. I believe our one was enough to rob me of my nights’ sleep and peace, they managed, maintained two. A shout-out to them too.
It’s funny how life works. I mean what were the odds?

The anticipation builds up, and I can feel the pressure rising. I can hardly contain my cool. I look ahead and see my teacher talking to a student. He says quietly, “Allah malik hai.”

We wait.

It’s our turn. Our first match of the day. We’re up against Shockwave. It’s just like practice. It’s just like practice. I keep telling myself. I am afraid to believe that we can make it through because if we fall, it’s gonna hurt a lot more. But I believe it; I believe it all the same. Because I and my team owe this much to the robot. We have to believe.

“Robots ready?” Dr. Faraz asks.

“Ready.”

This is it. This is it.

The whistle blows and I see our robot glide in the Zone 1 like it always does. I see it roll in the slot like a pro, like it always does. I see it eject the balls, bowl the pins and then I see it reset and bang head-on with the wall instead of rolling out of the slot.

It collides with the wall again on the second retry. We take another one. Shockwave is shocked and so are we.

But this is NERC. It’s all guts and no glory.

The time quietly ticks. I can hear somebody call our name from the crowd. I can hear some comfort being screamed at us. I can see it all fall. Shockwave takes another retry. We take yet another one. The time elapses when they are at a checkpoint ahead of us. The match is over. It’s a knock out.

I stand up and it feels like, it feels like when you heave yourself out of the water and it pulls you down the harder you try to get out. When you do get out and feel the pull release you, you are relieved that it is over. You are relieved that you are now free. You can be.

“We can have our lives back now,” I make a joke. My team is still in disbelief but I guess after all this, after everything, I’d say it’s okay to be. I look at the auditorium. I look at how far we had come. How far we have come. I watch other contending teams climb the stage as we descended from the back stage’s staircase. This was hello-goodbye.

We take our seats; disperse in the electrifying crowd of the final day. I shout words of comfort, and cheer with our batch mates for the competing teams in the arena. I watch a couple of knockouts with my grandparents who tell me that we were amazing. I laugh and thank them. Yes, we were.

But I don’t repeat what I did in the Mini. I don’t leave the arena. I don’t decide to fall. I stay with the team and watch the battle simmer till the very last knockout.

 

 

This is an abrupt ending. But I didn’t write this. Though I still say it makes for a great story. What happens in the arena is beyond you and me. The arena was a great teacher. It taught us to get up after we fell, bumped into walls and collided with one another. It taught us to get up after we bruised ourselves, and to put up a brave face. It taught us to be great sportsmen and gave us enough heart to cheer for others even after our own fall. It taught us that we can do our best, we can be our best but we are still human, and there are things that are beyond us; we need to let it be. It taught us how to play, and how to play it right and how to fight. It taught us that no amount of spare BJTs is enough. It taught us that everything can be over in 3 minutes or less. It taught us that even when the game is over and the battle fought, there is much to look forward to and fight for.

 

It took me weeks to leave the arena though I can’t admit if I have truly left it. Because I love the arena and I loved the year that I dreaded so much. It is because of that one thing. That best thing about this roller-coaster ride: a great team; a team like ours.

“The nice thing about teamwork is that you always have others on your side.”
M.C.

This one is for you guys.

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NERC 2014 – II: Modules, Mini and Mayhem

“Module Aya Hai Tu Ye Jana Hai
Is NERC Ne Bara Nachaana Hai”

I read this scarlet piece of paper off the soft board; somebody has neatly poured his heart about NERC on it. I look around the arena and it reeks of activity. One semester, three modules and a mini to go through; this is one roller-coaster ride.

 

I remember the first module. You never forget your firsts.

It was a late evening in March. My team and I had covered all the three paths: A, B and C. Many of the teams had already submitted their module. Some delayed it to tomorrow. The arena was still filled with people. Some played bluff in the corner, invictus from submitting a great module. Some just hung around to complete their seasons. Some showed up only to take a run. And some never showed up. We submitted ours round seven pm with the robot misbehaving and getting stuck like it was debuting in the arena for the very first time. It sucked.

 

Sometimes you hate it, the very sight of the arena that is so merciless. But all that life going on, all the hustling and the bustling, all the falling down and getting up again, all the lessons it teaches through all those bruises it gives you, you forgive and open up to it again.
This cosmopolitan place: Numerous tastes in food and clothing, different approaches to program a robot on the same path run by 12 different teams, at least five or more various cable wires successfully tangling humans, a couple of mighty speakers in the corner with a whacky playlist, a smoke-joint corner which – thank goodness – was wiped out later on. Then there’s a robot bowling all the pins, the chiming of battery chargers indicating that the battery’s good and ready to rock, food coming in, people going out; the awkward outbursts of a cheesy Bollywood song in-between irregular intervals and the usual dialogue containing:

“Screw driver hai?”

“Tape hai?”

“BJT hoga?”

“Kya scene hai?”

“Chal raha hai?”

“Ball hai?”

Coupled with the dialogue, the crackle of laughter – and howling, in case of a blackout – is the musical score provided by the occasional loud thud of a robot hitting the arena’s wall, the robot then, spinning out of control as the impact would half-the-time result in detaching the encoder’s wire, a robot hitting a certain somebody who’s standing in the arena and catching him off-guard, alright.

 

A guy from degree 35 called our robot “Dracula”. There are two categories of robots in NERC: the indigenous and the modular categories. The summary is that our robots are bigger, harder and nastier. Theirs are made of Lego kit: politer. So if a Lego robot happens to come in the path of our robot, it would crush it to minced meat. Or any of the robots owned by degree 33, in that case.
We were pretty hard as steel.

 

March rolled into April. In between projects and the monthly one hour tests, we managed another module, like the rest of our batch. They put the signals in the arena. The arena was smug. It flashed lights of green and blue in between regular intervals.
The place was swarming with degree 35 – no disrespect guys but it’s every little bit true; I wish Dracula had hit one of you to lessen the camping you did INSIDE the arena – in addition to their gentler robots, they were also slower.

So you get the picture right?

I mean authorities are on our throats to score 110 out of 100, the place is always booked by baby robots and when we do get the time for a run, staff comes barging in on our faces that he has “to close the arena” and that he has to “close the arena”. I am telling you, he repeated it with effortless ease and without the slightest compassion for our work. But then again, why should he? Because he, has to close the arena.

Oh, I forgot to mention, there would be the attendance. Apparently, that happened to be the exiting part of the day. The staff would come in, thrust the attendance sheet in our day-dreaming faces and we would sign it and hand it back. See? Exciting. Only it would happen with hourly time-checks.

 

We finally land ourselves into mid of May. We made it through three modules, two OHTs, i-lost-count-of projects and a lot of back-breaking. Studies? My team and I agreed to give it all up for this. And we did. Give everything up. Nearly.
I mean we would still sleep, eat and attend classes, and pretend we’re listening when the truth is we would be in the arena even when we weren’t.

The arena becomes an undeniable part of you. I am not sure if my batch mates would agree with me but for those who spent more than half of their semester inside this hall would beg to differ. I would miss this place when I would be away; when I would not be working. Yeah, I was in knee-deep beep of NERC.

 

It is Wednesday: 14th of May, a day before Mini NERC. It’s everything NERC, just a little less glamour, crowd and no auditorium. I pull an all-nighter with my team in the arena, and the rest of the 33 batch.
It was a long, long night. I remember just slowing down to a halt while my team mate, Ghazanfer would take his hundredth run of the day with the robot, come back to the table, fix something in the code, burn it and go back. The cycle would repeat and I would wonder if any of this was real. Because when the night is old, you kind of lose it; doing the same thing over and over again and expecting it to do something different. However there are times when you have the exact same code and the robot’s doing something different every time or a couple of times. But that is enough to kill the hope in you or drive you up the wall. But that’s not like my team, you see. They don’t give in. That’s what gets one going through it all. That’s what got us through.

The arena is filled with campers, wrappers and half-eaten food. Some sleep like logs and some are asleep with eyes wide open. What bemuses me is those people seem to sleep the heaviest who do not affiliate themselves with the robot or the pressure of it all.
From the start of the modules to the very end of NERC, I wasn’t able to sleep like that. The arena would haunt my mind like this: the robot would align itself to the wall; I will be trying to fix the wall tracking; I would be going for a toss for the blue arena etc., etc. But then, it didn’t stop even after NERC.

Dawn breaks. I try to go outside the department and find out we are locked inside without a way out. I shrug and come back. The morning is taken by the usual surprise that despite having a freaking Mini NERC at 9.30am, we have a class to catch at 8.00am. I think we all shared some common, silent swearing in that moment. It was powerful.

We reach the arena by 9.00. It is slippery, glossy and cleaned up. And that is bad news because the path the robot was covering like a king last night is moving through the same path like a drunken man.
One requires utmost precision in these things. Your robot doesn’t understand the clean surface is the same surface you coded it for. Because there’s less friction or some other random error forcing the sensors to obtain a different observation and compute it to give an altogether different result.

We also manage to drop our robot on the floor, color-sensor-area face down. We burned a new code and forgot it was turned on. It ran off the stool we put it on. It was crazy.

Half an hour later, the arena is ready. The judges sit sober, on the left. The chief guests and all that jazz on the right. We are somewhere in the middle of the crowd. The first team that goes is Jet Jaguars. One of my favorite teams. It’s made of a trio. The perfect trio, I’d say.

Dr. Faraz lists the basic rules and DO-NOTs and it begins.

Jet Jaguar bowls all the pins on the first ball. It’s a strike, says HOD. But their robot threw in the second ball too, defying the rule of a strike. Though then, it was hushed up, and they scored a perfect mark making it to the top 8.
Gravity comes next. My friends do great. Though they don’t compare to my credit hours in the arena but God, they are helluva of a competition. They too, make it to the top 8.
We are next. Things slow down. My team mate Shahbaz takes the flag. Ghazanfer is to take the run. The rest of us just sit on the other end of the arena and watch. The robot runs smoothly in the Zone 1. It rolls into the slot but stops short of the ramp and the balls don’t bowl the damn pins. We take a retry AFTER we exit the arena. And it’s a perfect run! But Dr.Faraz announces that you don’t have valid retry AFTER you exit the arena. You’re stuck with the previous score. I hear sad drum beats in the distance, in my head.

It’s weird how you have no control over what is going to happen in the arena. You can fix it a hundred times, you can make sure, twenty times all over and you can take more runs than my teammate and you can still not guarantee that there will be no misbehaving. That there will be no betrayal.

But this is a game and you have to play it. Play it for the fun. Play it for yourself. Play it for your team. Not just about winning. Not just about proving to people or anyone.
We had it. We have it. We saw it run through the arena times so many during practice. There is nothing to prove to anyone. There has to be nothing that we didn’t do for it. The heart breaks all the same and it vanquishes all the team spirit you had pumped up in yourself before the day began. The things you told yourself and the made-believe starts to dissipate into wonder and questions beginning with why.

We make to the top 8. But we are knocked out in the top 8’s head-to-head matches. We were up against 7UP. Their robot had admirable precision; it always hit the pins. They had a double barrel mechanism. No ball was ejected right from the exact center because the two barrels were positioned slightly offbeat the central line of the robot’s top. It was two hopes at once. I thought it was beautiful.

As the crowd-cheering deafened all other sounds, I remember us exchange congratulatory remarks of “good job” and “great work” with the winning team. We were done for the day. After that, I felt everything blur.
I didn’t care about the other matches; I didn’t want to see who knocked who next. I just wanted to go home and sleep this entire episode away.

There’s this image that I cannot shake out of my mind because I remember, I remember precisely seeing my team standing with the crowd and cheering on the other contenders. I also remember Team Jet Jaguars standing side by the side with our batch mates and putting up a brave face even after they ran out of time on their second run because their previous run was held invalid as their robot exited a Zone 2’s path whose signal was a scarlet red.
I shake my head because I had neither that spirit nor that courage. Though we had hit bottom, my team chose not to fall while I did. Amidst loud shouts of

“BUCK UP! BUCK UP!”

“ABHI BUHAT TIME HAI!”

“YE TERA HE HAI!”

“ARAM SE! JO HAJAYE GA!”

I pick my bag up and leave the arena.

NERC 2014 – I: The Arena

This series of articles are dedicated to degree 33, my mom and dad, and my grandparents who taught me have hope even in the bluest of times, and the will to go on.

This is a tribute to all teams of degree 33 of College of E&ME participating in NERC 2014, who have been a vital part of this journey, and a constant source of inspiration and life in the arena.

7UP                      Parabot                       Toad                Thunderbird                  POV
Black Mamba                 Kronous                      Tamatar                   Gravity                  J-Bot
Jet Jaguars               Rigel                   Invictus

  Hi5

And this is a special tribute to all the unsung heroes of NERC.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
― Haruki Murakami                

 

This is an introduction: a preface before the big bang. A little curtain-raising but not too much. Let’s get this story out because the robots are ready, to roll into –

“…a place or scene of activity, debate, or conflict”

– the arena.

The department of Mechatronics Engineering has a hall. It is situated on the first floor, left of the marble-chip staircase, at the end of the white washed corridor. The hall is as big as that of three average-sized classrooms combined. There are a couple of windows on either side of the hall; some are jammed, some never close. The floor is carpeted and saved by the “Please Remove Your Shoes While [sic] Entry” sign. It is enforced effectively. It saved the carpet alright but managed to make people’s shoes disappear from time to time.

The hall is not the arena, though it boasts the arena with unmistakable pride. In the center of the room there are two wooden mazes – blue and red – built back to back, the either one a reflection of the other such that both of them are exactly the same.
The blue arena is my favorite. The red arena is hell.

The windows on the right overlook the highway of Peshawar Road. It is the only time that I feel containment in this place. The working hours are long and stretchy, yes but not without excitement. Despite that, you feel the irony brush against you as the wind blows into the hall through these very windows and you catch sight of the open road; people and cars speeding by, oblivious to where you are; how you are.

Dark wooden tables and chairs are stacked on either side of the hall. You pick a corner, mark your territory and watch the battles from your desk. But if you’re up around in the hall, you constantly dodge your way. Either it’s from a fiery robot, a person, a stray stool or a half-empty bottle of Sting.

 

It feels like you are on a train station. Waiting for a train. Everybody around you is waiting for the same boarding. We know where we’re going but the destination is nowhere in sight. And while we wait, we talk, we code, we get hit, we talk some more, call it a day and come back here again and start all over. The wait is incessant but we are not impatient. We manage to make do just fine.

 

This year’s theme is a jump from last year’s. It’s strange, slanting and bittersweet. If I am to sum it all up, it goes like this: follow the lights.

Each arena is divided into two zones. Zone 1 consists of the two parallel white lines – the starting point – and leading up to the slot. The Zone 2 starts immediately after the slot to the path leading to the exit of the arena. Both zones have signals which you need to follow unless you want to land yourself a forced retry in the limited 3 crucial minutes you get. It’s like traffic signals with very tempting empty roads.

The robot is required to begin its run at the starting line, follow the path which the green signal indicates at the start, move into the slot, bowl those six bowling pins and move out of the slot.
If you win yourself a strike, you pick any path to run through, right to the exit from the Zone 2 but if don’t win a strike, the robot needs to decide which path to take in Zone 2 indicated by its green signal to successfully exit the arena.

There’s a small catch: every signal in the two zones turn green for ten seconds and red for twenty seconds. There are three paths: A, B and C. The signals turn green in that respectively groovy manner.

Say hello to this beautiful thing.

tn

Pretty intense, yeah?

The arena can be anything. It is your playground; it is your battle field. It is your friend. It is your enemy. The place doesn’t change. It’s the same when we started our third year and it’s still the same – well, fundamentally – but it changed us forever.

 

The third year in my engineering course is a big deal. Third year or the NERC year, same thing really. This year the 11th annual function of National Engineering Robotic Competition took place in the College in the peak of June’s heat, like it always does. As soon as summer says hello, NERC preparations start to burst in through the department’s corridors, classes and labs. Not to mention the arena. It becomes a magnet, pulling everyone towards itself. You step on the entrance stairs and you can hear the arena.
Eleven years of successful head banging with the robots.
Eleven years of robotic cool.

The arena is where we hang out, all the time. In between classes, weekends, weekdays after 4pm; this is our second home. On many late evenings as I would walk past my department after I’m done, I would look back and see the windows of the arena brightly lit. When every class and every department would retire, it would still glimmer. It would be wide awake.

The arena doesn’t sleep.

The year is 2014. And the arena is alive.

The Beginning

I never thought that I would be up this late and I would sit down on my desk to write. I had pictured this moment way too many times but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was afraid to write. I was afraid to start. Starting is scary. It takes a lot out of you and it asks a lot of you to do that. So what is different today that made me come to a place which I only fantasized about and about which I only wrote down that I would do in my To Do list? What was it that compelled me to stay focused about this task despite the fact that I would, right now, more than anything like to sleep and close my eyes after a long long day at the university?

The fact remains, and the story’s the same: it was a simple decision. I am going to write. I am going to start. And today is the first day of it all.

University is all about projects and deadlines, well at least where I am currently enrolled in. Exams are held three times in one semester and a load of projects are unleashed on us. So it is crazy trying to balance the homework, the classes, cram a bit of sleep in between, forget a couple of birthdays and getting a hundred different people mad at you for not calling them back or being too busy trying to make it right in university. In my third semester, I went downhill. I was scared. I thought I couldn’t do this. I thought engineering is not what I can do whether I wanted to or not. My exams were horrible, I would go home and not study: obviously there’s fatigue from the ten different classes you attend in one day. I would then cram a couple of hours before exam. Looking back, I had time when I was home, even half a day was enough but I never picked up my books on time.

I was afraid. I was unsure. I was scared of the daunting task of a homework that would just pile up on my desk and tending to it would mean that I am not going to get out of it anytime soon. It would mean that there is no completing it until the deadline is breathing right down on my neck. Only then, would I panic and pick up my screaming homework to cram it all down or produce it on paper. And of course, the results would be dull and I would be left feeling like rubbish. Knowing that I could have done better but I didn’t. Knowing I could have done it yet it’s still unfinished. Knowing that I would have been able to conquer it in a day but I let it stretch over the week and dragged it on till the deadline screamed in my face.

Hey, there are times when you are tired and you have rubbed your nose raw – what do you do? You take a break. You break the pattern. But that is another story for another day. However the vital point of the story I want to tell you is when you have the potential just sleeping inside of you and you are just procrastinating for the heck of it because you’re not brave enough to face your task, I have a simple thing to say, do it.

Get up. Start. No matter how bad of a start it is, how poor, just begin.
Startings are scary. Startings can be daunting. So be brave and pick that laptop up and begin your assignment, or your copy or your book or whatever your task is. And conquer it.

Too many could haves, would haves, should haves did no one much good. Leave them behind and go on.

The beginning is always today.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797 – 1851)

Reasons to believe in Pakistan

The last few years have set fire to the nation. The Land of the Pure in blood and flames. Politically, economically and socially, things in Pakistan have spun out of control. The question that clouded my mind was how Pakistan is still alive.

One of those days, when I sat with my friend, talking about the issues in Pakistan; the communal feuds, the ethnic genocide, the murders at point blank range, the ferocity of uprising corruption, the betrayal of the trust of our people who we chose our leaders and the hatred that simply breeds and breeds some more.
I looked at her and asked her what was to become of all this and she merely said, ‘My grandfather would say, so many people are trying to tear this nation apart but they fail to do so.’
At that time, I just shook my head but now, I see it too. The tearing apart but yet not completely. Something, something still is responsible for keeping Pakistan alive. Keeping the 1947 dream alive; a place where the people of Pakistan can live as free and independent people.

The state’s current affairs have through a very rocky road. And that too, marked by blood which need not ever be spilled. There is a list of awfully disruptive things that have taken place and still do. Any person can easily plot down a sad, critical list in black and white about what is wrong with this nation. But truth is, what we really need is to know the good things that can keep us going; importantly, the cause that we are working for. This is my take on why all this is worth fighting for and being here. Being Pakistani.

It is said that people make a place not the building and blocks: a house, into a home. Now, Pakistan has that beauty of connecting so many different ethnic groups and people by one simple thread; of faith. You see people of every color and caste and name in Pakistan. The diversity is as amazing as the map of Pakistan itself. This makes a nation of big and small. A nation of great and wonderful.

Remember the 2005 earthquake? The insanity of the situation. Nothing prepared and the chaos that followed. But what happened next? Helping hands were rendered: the Army stepped in, saving lives; government forces helped build shelters and roofs; people gave help for survival for their country fellow men and women. The amazing outpour of contribution from the people is still remembered.

Then the 2011 floods in Sindh and Baluchistan. The water had left the nation devastated. But I also remember the nation’s participation in getting the needs of the affectees fulfilled. NGOs poured in. Volunteers driving down to those affected areas and getting the job done by hand. I remember listening to them on the radio; telling their story and inspiring more people to join the road to help more.

The sectarian attacks in 2013. Every month a very bloody story. But even in that insane despair, there was something to hold on to. I remember coming home and finding the Kacheri Chowk a quiet show of people standing, solemnly. Holding black flags to express their grief and condemn the attack on humanity and innocent lives. On the television, connecting the major cities of Pakistan, one could see how everyone, side by side, stood together in peaceful protest against the inhumanity and the genocide of the Pakistani Shias. The fact that so many people came out, demonstrated utmost patience and peace yet still got their message across, clear and good: that we shall not stand up for this and we stand together against the genocide of our people, of our country men and women. I believe that was something very moving. Hope filled. Beautiful. Even in the saddest of times, knowing that there are people who care, who stand up for what is right and are ready to fight for their people and they are united – I believe it’s milestone that Pakistan has achieved over the years.

Then there are opportunities that Pakistan has to offer in the educational field.
Pakistan has a list of incredible institutions. To name a few, there is National University of Science and Technology, FAST, Agha Khan University, Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. Then there are the prestigious institutes which have been present for a long time: Dow, King Edward College of Medicine, National College of Arts.

The places that Pakistan has to offer: from one of the most difficult climbs of K2 to the swaying sound of the Arabian Sea in the South and the valleys in between. There are deserts and barren lands. Then there are the forests and mangroves. From 52’C in Jacobabad to -16’C in Quetta. Kisa Khawani in Peshawar, Badshahi Masjid in Lahore.
Jinnah’s residency in Ziarat. I could go on about the places and cities. Pakistan is filled with priceless heritage of so many years and traditions.

Of the things that people miss the most about Pakistan when they are away from her is being surrounded by that familiar warmth and people who look after you and you after them. There is a very strong connection that binds people together here, in Pakistan. In families, in friendship and in relatives. A place where you are born and where you are raised has always that special connection with you. Even when you are far away from you, you would look back and remember it. It’s a part of you. Like Pakistan. A part of all of us.

History teaches a very important lesson. Looking back through the pages of War of Independence and then the struggle for freedom in south-east Asia. The speeches, conferences, mass contact movements, revolutions, blood and then finally independence, 1947. A generation spent their life for us to have a land where we could live and breathe as free and independent people. Giving up now would be a poor repayment for their incessant struggle and contribution. So what should be the cause? Pakistan. The people. The dream. That.

After all, there are now so many reasons to believe.

 

There is no power on earth that can undo Pakistan

–         Jinnah (October 1947)