My First Job Interview

I traveled from Peshawar to Karachi for my first job interview with a large multinational engaged in manufacturing and marketing fertilizer. I had applied for a marketing job.

Having recently returned from the US with a Master’s degree in Soil Chemistry, I was hopeful about my interview — yet a bit nervous.

The company’s head office was located diagonally across the Metropole Hotel, on Victoria Road, where I reported at the appointed time.

They processed me through the Human Resources department (they called it Employee Relations then, or ER for short) where, among other things, they gave me a long, multiple-choice test — some kind of aptitude test, I was told. …

How they are similar — and dissimilar

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Hagia Sophia — Photo by Oleksandr Naumenko on Pinterest

Turkey is probably the only country that continues to receive Pakistanis warmly. Pakistanis know Turkey not only as another Muslim country but a country that was home to the caliphate (Khilafat-e-Osmania) for several centuries.

They also know Turkey because of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (died 1938) whom they rate high among the Muslim leaders, just as they do their own Quad-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

His long-held wish to travel abroad was fulfilled but not in a way he had ever dreamed.

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PIA Boeing 720

He had one regret. That he had never traveled outside of Pakistan.

I’m talking about Zaki, officially known as S. M. Zaki. He was one of the early employees of Esso Pakistan Fertilizer Co. (EPFCL). A graduate of Tando Jam, he joined the company as an agronomist, sometime in 1965–66.

I got to know him closely when the company extended its marketing operations to parts of the then Frontier Province and created a separate division reporting to the head office. We both were posted there, he in Abbottabad and I in Peshawar.

Zaki was a soft-spoken, slow-paced, and amiable person who wore thick glasses and prematurely graying hair. …

When the boss challenged his employee to a duel. Unbelievable but true.

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Two unwritten, but universally practiced, office rules are:

Rule #1: The boss is always right

Rule #2: If the boss is wrong, refer to Rule #1

Hasan Imam Kazmi, then a Senior Sales Officer at Karachi head office, didn’t follow the ‘office rules’. When he disagreed with his boss, instead of referring to Rule #1, he argued with him to prove himself right, often in others' presence. This didn’t go well with the boss who silently kept a count of Hasan’s ‘transgressions’.

Let me briefly explain here the organizational structure of the Marketing Division then.

Tony Ward was Vice President Marketing, a British from Yorkshire, in his late 50s, with grey hair and a mustache — and the proverbial stiff upper lip. Reporting to him were Vick Sheldon (known as Vick) as Marketing Services Manager, and Dick Davis (known as Dick) as Marketing Manager. Both were Americans, in their mid-50s, and both were burly and bald. Vick was bald like a pumpkin — even at the eyebrows, and Dick was partially bald with slight bristles around his head. Other than their similar-sounding first names and their physical similarities, there was nothing common between the two. …

When company seminars ended with a ‘Happy Hour’

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Metropole Karachi on the right. The white building, far left, was the Central Hotel (Photo from Pinterest)

I don’t know if any of the old Exxonians remember the Candlelight Room in the Metropole Hotel, across the street from our office. That’s where we held monthly meetings, on the last Friday of every month, after the office hours. All management employees attended these meetings where one of the senior managers would make a presentation about his area of work followed by a question-answer session. The purpose of such meetings was to make all management employees familiar with the overall operations of the company.

Dr. Mac Fuqua was the president. A Ph.D. in chemical engineering, in his 50s, from Lousiana, he was a quiet and polite person with a distinct southern accent. …

Replacing jute with cotton

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Esso Pakistan Fertilizer Co., as Exxon Chemical Pakistan was known back then, had its head office on the 3rd and 4th floor of the Central Hotel Building, off Victoria Road (later renamed Abdullah Haroon Road), diagonally across from the Metropole Hotel.

It was 1969, the turbulent last days of Ayub Khan’s regime. Political tensions within Pakistan, especially between East and West Pakistan, were rising, and air transportation between the two wings had become uncertain.

We in the western wing depended on East Pakistan, among other things, for jute products, mainly gunny bags, which were used for storing fertilizer, grain, and other such commodities. …

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Peshawari turban

Knocking the turban off a man’s head (پگڑی اچھالنا) is a common expression in Pakistan meaning insulting or defaming a person.

And dropping one’s turban at someone’s feet is a sign of humility, submission — or asking for forgiveness. In Pakistani culture, a turban is more than just a headwear. It’s also a symbol of one’s pride.

A popular TV serial in the 1980s, Waris, dramatically highlighted the importance of a man’s turban. …

January 25 was a cold day in Islamabad, and everyone — almost everyone — came to the ICP alumni meeting wearing a cap.

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Photo by Tariq Hayat

A man is known … by the cap he wears! This may not be true elsewhere but is true in Pakistan, where the cap a man wears can give away his ethnicity — and a little bit more.

With increased travel and TV exposure, the caps worn in one part of Pakistan have also been adopted by people in other parts of the country but, still, the headwear is often a good indicator of a man’s ethnicity — and a little bit more.

The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa(KP) and Gilgit-Baltistan have the largest variety of men’s caps, the most common being the pakol — the flat, round, woolen cap with a tiny brim all around. …

This was the early 1960s.

My first stopover was in London where I stayed for a few days, on my way to the US. The airline had booked me at a hotel, Lexham Hotel if I recall the name correctly. It was a nice little hotel. Well, every hotel in London would have looked nice to me — even luxurious — compared to the Nigar in Karachi, where I had stayed before starting my journey.

In the morning, I went down to the dining room for breakfast and sat at an empty table. The table was laid out with the necessary cutlery and crockery, a pair of salt and pepper shakers, and a small conical glass flask with some watery stuff in it. …

When I Became the Lead Singer!

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L to R: Basit Ali Shah, Qazi Raziq and the author

The three of us had won a scholarship to study in the US on an international exchange program, at Colorado State University (CSU), Fort Collins. Basit Ali Shah in Dairy Science, Qazi Raziq in Farm Mechanics, and myself in Soil Science. It was the early 1960s. Fort Collins’ population was 25,000 and CSU’s student population was a little over 2,000 including 60-70 international students.

Not too long after we settled in our dormitories, made a few friends, and familiarized ourselves with the campus and the town, we learned the university would soon be holding its annual International Students’ Day where students from different countries would display their culture — food, music, dance, handicrafts, etc. …

Aziz Ahmad

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