A Bhutto legacy, May Day is still an official holiday in Pakistan.
That Pakistan is a land of many contradictions is no secret. Here, the high-end of international fashion co-exists — maybe not so peacefully but still it does — with the head-to-toe burqa tradition and fashion shows are held despite growing radicalisation of society.
Here, anti-Americanism is at its all-time high but American brands are a household name with Coke/ Pepsi being a staple on the dining tables of upwards of middle class homes. Alcohol is officially banned and religiously prohibited but flows; courtesy bootleggers who make a killing on each bottle.
And, in this land where being surkh (red as in leftist) is not really the most safest of political lines to take as it is associated with being anti-God, May Day is still an official holiday; another Bhutto legacy that has survived despite religious fundamentalism rendering Left politics irrelevant.
From 1972 onwards, Pakistan has had a government holiday on May 1. It was first introduced as part of the Labour Policy and has remained in place ever since though there is nothing much left of the Left in Pakistan despite efforts by die-hard Leftists to keep their politics alive.
Sri Lanka’s secret
Rugby actually has more following in Sri Lanka than cricket.
Sri Lanka is a cricket crazy country. But that is only one face of Sri Lanka. “There is more following for rugby in Sri Lanka than there is for cricket,” says Namal Rajapaksa, rugby player and Member of Parliament, who also President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s son. “Look at the inter-school matches. Every rugby match attracts a crowd. It is not the same with cricket,” says Namal.
According to local officials, rugby was introduced in the late 1800s and there are thousands playing the sport across the country, and in the Hill districts. This is possibly Sri Lanka’s best kept secret. Even Sri Lanka’s current coach, Phil Greening, a former England Sevens coach, was taken aback when he was approached to train Sri Lanka. He is reported to have asked: “They play rugby in Sri Lanka?”
Both Namal, and his brother Yoshitha, are serious rugby players, and are part of the national team. In fact, Yoshitha, who is a career Naval officer, also leads the national team. Namal says that there is a long way to go for Sri Lanka to catch up with the Asian biggies, Hong Kong, Japan etc. But he is confident that the team will get there. “We are looking at the 2019,” he says.
Sri Lanka will be putting in some serious efforts to further develop players and infrastructure here. The next edition of Carlton Sevens rugby tournament in Sri Lanka will feature the World top 40 Sevens players. Plus, he is banking on the Indian Premier League formula of entertainment to bring in crowds that never watched rugby before. “We are getting Shankar Mahadevan to do a signature tune, and also come down and perform. We are also getting at least two Indian film stars,” he said.
The Sevens leg will kick off in Kandy (May 26-29) and move to Colombo (June 2-3). The Colombo-leg will be the venue for the IPL style major entertainment and after parties.
High on soft power
The Gulen schools are signposts to a silent transformation in Turkey.
In the enclosed greens of a football ground at Istanbul’s Fatih University, a heated contest is underway. Young men from Kyrgyzstan, dressed in red, are feverishly locking horns with a team from Azerbaijan, attired in blue and white clothing.
The atmosphere around the ground is electric — the result of enthusiastic support that both teams get from the ebullient student fraternity in Fatih university, known for its cosmopolitan, international character. The contest ends in a 1-1 draw and both teams with their supporters head for the dining halls for a well-deserved lunch.
Fatih University reflects the silent transformation that Turkey is undergoing. The University is a private enterprise inspired by the Gulen movement — a vehicle that has softly but powerfully conveyed a contemporary message of inclusive Sufi thinking. Reflecting the ideas of Fethullah Gulen, the movement also promotes solid values of business enterprise, modern education as well as non-discrimination and secularism in the political domain. It is also a shining example of the Gulen Movement’s commitment to spread quality education on a global scale. Gulen schools now operate in nearly 140 countries. The University is also a manifestation of the rise of the Anatolian Tigers — the pious and enormously successful grassroots businessmen from Anatolia, Turkey’s Asiatic part. The Gulen schools, as well as a handful of private universities such as Fatih, receive a significant part of their funding from the coffers of the Anatolian Tigers.