Friday, June 21, 2013

Shifting Cultivation

While burying the dead
you are not laying the body for eternal rest,
but carefully interring a seed inside the womb
to sprout, grow, bloom and fruit
after a brief period of gestation

That is why you beseech before each burial
for washing it with water, dew and hail
so that it can grow in any clime
braving any adverse season

For life to sprout
the seeds need to be buried
in the seclusion of a womb

The whole life is an exercise
in designing yourself as a potential seed
to be buried in the womb-like seclusion of the grave

You can never read the riot of springs
nor the fertility of eons to come
-with the birds flying in to taste the fruits,
the bees drawing the nectar of flowers
and the water gurgling in the stream nearby-
all programmed inside a tiny seed

Each seed carries within billions of gigabytes
divided into variegated files and folders
of the texts, images, videos and what not
all supporting the episodes of a big show
to be staged in multiple cycles
either in the paradise or in the hell

Thanks to the plants and trees
for showing me beforehand  
how a tiny seed or a bough planted
inside  the womb of the earth
can  be pregnant with
years of spring and seasons of harvest

Monday, June 17, 2013


In a congregation hall
your prayers are no longer yours.
Your mutterings, silence, movements and stillness 
do no more belong to you. 

The pupa of your piety is getting mutated into 
a 24-coloured beautiful butterfly. 
It breaks free from the cocoon of seclusion 
and gets submerged in a multitude of heterogeneous devotions 

Each of your litanies will become tiny droplets
gushing forth from a small stream
forming the tributary of a river
and flows on and on past the estuaries
but to be eventually immersed in the ocean

Let your tiny drops take the meandering way to the stream
and then the riverine path to the sea
instead of stagnating and getting muddier at its fountainhead.

Once plunged into the sea,
the white foams of the waves
will wash you off all the dirt

The sea shows no trace of any river
although it carries within the water of all the rivers

As the sea imbibes within it the memories and pangs
of all rivers that flow onto it,
the utterings, devotions and tears of the pious
fill the congregation hall with a celestial aroma
which ascends heavenward carried on the wings of angels
like pollen of flowers on the lips of butterflies.

A prayer said alone is like a lonely flower
while in the congregation it is part of a garden in full bloom
All flowers in a single tree will be of the same fragrance
while in a garden you will have a plethora of them to pick up from

The dull monochrome of your lonely prayers
turns into a marvelous rainbow experience in a congregation hall

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Want to be the fire, wish for the wind

Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Antifragile may test your patience, especially if you have already read Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, as the author unnecessarily draws on his bombastic knowledge of philosophy to hammer home almost the same theory of "domesticating, dominating and conquering the uncertain"  

How instrumental were randomness and uncertainty in the evolution of human civilisation as we see it today? Most of the phenomenal changes in human history were not born out of our planned and meticulous pursuit of a premeditated goal, nor were they the results of our domain expertise and knowledge. In fact we don’t know much about how the future is going to unfold and it has been this ignorance and uncertainty, rather than our certitude and firm conviction, that prompt us to brace ourselves to meet any eventuality head on. Had it not been for the challenges and uncertainties, our latent talent and intellectual acumen could never have been tapped effectively.

In his voluminous Antifragile, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, whose previous title Black Swan was celebrated for its eponymous metaphor, presents his exceptional theory of ‘domesticating, dominating and conquering the opaque and the uncertain’. The book which may occasionally test your patience, especially if you have already read Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, as the author unnecessarily draws on his bombastic knowledge of philosophy to drive home almost the same theory. Taleb reiterates that in order to be successful one has to make use of randomness and uncertainty, instead of hiding from them. He argues that one really shows one’s mettle under pressure therefore if we want to be the fire, we have to wish for the wind. Taleb observes that a lot of thing benefit from shocks as they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility and randomness. He coins the word antifragile which he says is beyond resilience or robustness.

The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; while the antifragile gets better. Antifragile goes to the extent of stating that absence of political instability, even war, let explosive material and tendencies accumulate under the surface. Absence of fire lets highly inflammable material accumulate. Therefore peace-some kind of forced, constrained, non-natural peace- may be costly in lives. Citing an example for this seemingly nonsensical theory he examines how a century of relative peace in Europe, coupled with the rise of the heavily armed nation-state, triggered the great world wars in the 20th century. However, he believes that war is not a good thing, because as the victim of a brutal civil war in Lebanon, he can attest to its horrors.

The book also examines how the idea that systems may need some stress and agitation has been missed by those who grasp it in one area and not in another. Human somehow fails to recognise situations outside the contexts in which they usually learn about them. He reminisces the story of a banker whom he met in the driveway of a hotel in Dubai (described as a pseudo city, maybe because it failed Taleb’s antifragility test) who made a porter carry his luggage and after 25 minutes, lifted free weights at the gym, trying to replicate natural exercise as if he were swinging a suitcase.

In short, in 500 plus pages, Antifragile waxes eloquent about the importance of ‘nopredictive’ decision making to counter the uncertainties in business, politics, medicine, and life in general.

Catching them young

Khalil Gibran once said that children’s soul dwelled in the house of tomorrow which we could not visit, even in our dreams. Since their language is as primitive and pristine as the nature, in order to communicate with them we need to shed all the stylistic flourishes of our polished tongues. They communicate in the universal language of colours, images and music and therefore we grown-ups cannot converse with them straightaway in our sophisticated lingua franca. The more pictures and sounds we employ and the lesser words we use, the better can we get our message across to them. 

Kevin Graal, who extensively travelled in the Middle East and Europe and interacted with children as part of Kids Read programme by British Council and HSBC Bank Middle East, feels that children everywhere in the world are incredibly similar. “Children here in Oman and elsewhere react in almost exactly the same way as children in the UK,” he says. “They laugh for the same thing and cry for the same; and we very often tell them the same story about the same thing. A programme like Kids Read brings us together; it makes the world a little smaller and makes us feel that our differences are not as great as our similarities.” 

A storyteller and educator with an extensive repertoire of traditional stories, riddles, songs and games from around the world, Graal recently visited Muscat to attend various story reading sessions, workshops, interactive sessions with children and teachers and storytelling volunteers from HSBC. With a unique and effective blend of games, music, pictures, mental games, songs, coupled with his dynamic and electrifying body language, Graal steals to the heart of children everywhere in the world. 

The Kids Read programme offers an incredible opportunity to enable children to communicate and express themselves. “It is such a simple idea that you can select a number of books and with the help of the HSBC you will be able to reach them to so many schools in the region,” says Graal who also visited Bahrain, Kuwait, UAE and Saudi Arabia as part of the programme. “This partnership makes an amazing amount of work possible and it is actually changing the perception of children and teachers about stories here in Oman and all over the gulf region. Hundreds and hundreds of schools are being influenced by this programme. The partnership of the Ministry of Education in Oman really puts a seal of approval on this programme.” 

He feels that the most important thing about story telling is that it makes the bond between the children and the grown-up- including the parents and teachers- strong. Asked about how technology rendering irrelevant the traditional way of storytelling of which Graal is a strong advocate, the master storyteller replies by narrating another story, “This is the story about a small village where the story teller used to tell stories by a fire and one day they brought television to the village, pushing all the children to watch the TV. But after a while, they went back to the story teller; and the people asked why they go back to the storyteller while they can watch so many stories on the television. The children replied, ‘but the storyteller knows us and we can talk to the storyteller’. May be in the future the new technology will find a way to interact with the children where children can change the story ending, in the way they interact with me when I tell stories.” He says in the future books and technology can work together to present the stories in more interactive ways. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

An extended dream

Last night, I was talking to a friend of mine who was sick at heart and was desperately pestering me to spend a few hours with him in order that he can give vent to some of his frustrations. Sitting on the bank of a dry wadi bed near my house, he bombarded me with a volley of queries about how to make life more fruitful, words more sincere, deeds more meaningful and soul more 'Taqwa-ridden' or 'Godward' and so on and so forth. 

He had some doubts about the life after death, instigated by some of his atheist friends. Here are the excerpts from our conversation…

 “Do you sleep well, Ha….?”

  “Yea! Nothing could make me awake at night!” 

“ Do you have dreams, very often?”

“Plenty of them. Why are you so curious about my dreams, Nafi?”   

“Are they good dreams or only nightmares?”

“I have both of them. Some days I have some interesting dreams which I wished I could never have woken up from, while some other days I had some horrible nightmares which would send shivers down my spine for the next couple of days.”

“Good. I have an old friend who used to have a lot of good dreams. Some eight years back, he did not come back from his dreams at all. That night he dreamt about a beautiful garden, surrounded by gorgeous streams, resplendent with a riot of colours and fragrances, a lot of virgin nymphs to serve him and energetic lads to chauffeur him around. Someone asked him whether he wanted to stay back. He nodded in affirmative. Then he asked him to stay there and he did never come back from that dream.”

“And he did never come back from that dream?”

“Yes, he did never wake up from that beautiful dream! That dream became his reality from that moment onwards. He is still enjoying that dream, eight years on and will do so for years and eons to come. Think of losing yourself in your dreams for ever. Each one of us will have our own respective D-days when we will be taken to our dream world from where we will never come back. The death is an extended version of sleep and life after death is the big-screen representation of your dreams. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to have a prolonged nightmare (hell) or a gala dream like my friend….”     

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

True Love

My Love,
each Al Hamdulillah is my beatitude’s kiss on Your eternal face

Who can kiss the beloved sweeter than this?

For, the ecstasy of osculation will never die down

and after each kiss you are electrified

to repeat it with a more violent passion.

How can I stop when each one prompts me to repeat it more ardently?

Lost in this endless chain of love exchanges,

I leave myself to be overwhelmed by You

submitting all I was, have been and will be to You.

Like a trapeze player throwing himself in the air

in the thick of swinging

as if he would never come back to the ground

or like a yo-yo bouncing up and down

always refusing to reach the consummation.

I kiss You when the sky is all set for a downpour

because I know the rain is but a manifestation of our Love.

The wind caresses the strings of my mind

To sing amorously in praise of You.

I kiss You with a fervent passion

when the day is unveiled from the sheath of night

because daylight is the most delightful presentation of our love;

everything is captured in the big canvas of light,

from the dew in the early dawn

to the breeze adorning the eve;

from the uproar of the waves

to the meditative stillness of leaves;

from the play of a grasshopper

to the fluttering of military aircrafts.

I kiss You when the sun recedes to make way for night

So that I closet with You in soothing seclusion.

I kiss You in the midnight hours

as You alone wait for me wholeheartedly

when all my so-called beloved people

do not even remember me, let alone give an appointment.

As my lips tremble on Your eternal face

my craving for Your love soars high above the infinity

My Love,

Each Al Hamdulillah is my beatitude’s kiss on Your eternal face.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The tryst with Ramadan

The ethereal fragrance of Ramadan has started to waft in the atmosphere even before the crescent moon appears on the horizon. The excitement has been in the air well in advance prompting us to go halfway to embrace the holy month. 

Yes, it has always fascinated us from a distance. Its magnetic power and majestic appeal have been pervasive enough to encompass two of its immediate preceding months- Rajab and Sha’ban. Both the months heralded the arrival of Ramadan in two different ways. While the former, in which five-time prayer became mandatory after Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him)’s nocturnal ascent to the Heavens, marked the beginning of a festive season of Ibadat, the latter, in which the Prophet used to fast voluntarily more days than in any other month, exhorted us to prepare ourselves both mentally and physically to welcome the King of all months.  

The very thought of Ramadan fills our hearts with joy. We have waited for it as if it were a dear family member coming home once in a year; and adorned our waiting with prayers. We have grown a passion for it and believed that even our waiting itself is part of a blessed mission. Just like we cheer up our stressed mind, racked by the customariness of life, with the pleasant dreams about a forthcoming holiday trip with the beloved, we visualise Ramadan as an occasion to recharge our soul’s batteries, retrieve our stolen verve and dynamism and reorient ourselves to the true objective of life.  We dream about fasting, special night prayers, Quran recitations, iftars and pre-dawn meal and what not.   Hardly did anything related to Ramadan creep into mind than we grow more and more excited about this great opportunity for redemption.  When Ramdan knocks at our heart’s door with its healing caress, we hug it to the heart as if we were receiving a much expected guest and usher it to the reception room of our mind. But why is such a guest paying an annual visit and staying with us for one month?  What purpose does this visit serve with regards to the objectives of our life? What kind of relation do we have with this visitor? And how are we supposed to treat it?  

The Noble Quran introduces Ramadan as the month of its Revelation. All other characteristics we attribute to this month are of lesser importance and effect, compared to this finest attribute attached to it by the Almighty.  Therefore, Ramadan marks the anniversary of Revelation (wahy) and its significance lies in its being the occasion when we are reminded of the significance of Revelation in deciding the direction and objective of our life. Each Ramadan comes with this serious reminder: how successful has been each of us in basing the priorities of our life on the message of Revelation?  

Since the Revelation of the Quran is a great phenomenon in the history of human civilisation, we were told to reminisce it every year and observe it in a way that it will make our body and mind and the ethos of our culture more adapted and customised to suit the real requirements of our life, as envisaged by the Revelation.  Ramadan exhorts us to come to terms with the underlying reality of existence and break away from all illusion and misconceptions about the purpose of our life in this world. It comes to straighten the curves in our thoughts, rectify the disorientation of   our priorities and to liberate ourselves from all delusions that mislead us from the reason for which we are created and given sustenance in this world.   Though the Quran categorically described worship of God (Ibadat) as the one and only purpose behind human creation, Ramadan is the only period of the year when we dedicate more time of our mundane life to work for materialising the real purpose of our existence.  It is a bonanza month offered for us to dedicate for Ibadat so that we may rectify our faults and inaccuracies in adhering to the real spirit of Revelation.  

When the angels cast aspersion on man’s capability to become a dedicated and sincere servant of God, the Almighty justified His creation of man saying He knows better.  It was the Creator Himself who protected man from the attack against his existence. But humans were not like angels as they constituted a synthesis of both the corporal and the spiritual. The spiritual turn of their existence had always been in a struggle with their biological requirements, making to maintain a delicate balance between them a very difficult task. The significance of man’s existence lies in this struggle to preserve the spiritual from being triumphed over by the temporal.  In this struggle, man is evidently aided by the Almighty through a lot of offers which include among many others His repentance.  When the leader of angels was denied a chance to repent even for the first sin he committed, it was offered to man as many times as he commits a sin.   

Ramadan is such an auspicious occasion offered by the Almighty to help man in this struggle. As a month replete with a lot of opportunities helping man to ensure the success and domination of the spiritual turn of his existence over the temporal one, Ramadan is a time for redeeming the decrepitude of our existence.  If man’s inability to worship God was cited by the angels to question human existence, the Almighty has stood by us by providing golden opportunities like Ramadan to prove our mettle as dedicated servants.  Unlike other months, the fabric of Ramadan is interwoven in such a way that we spend most of the time worshipping Him than doing anything else. He has made fasting, the most inconspicuous form of worship, mandatory for us in this month to endear ourselves to Him.   

Thus our tryst with Ramadan every year is an opportunity to defend our existence, reclaim our entitlement to the servanthood of the Almighty and remould ourselves in accordance with the spirit of Revelation.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A carnival of bibliophiles

"Egyptians write, Lebanese publish, Iraqis read”, famously said Taha Hussein, an illustrious Arab modernist writer and intellectual of the 20th century. But you will strongly disagree with this celebrated maxim about Arab publishing industry while standing inside Al Farahdi hall, named after the author of the first Arabic dictionary, at Muscat International Book Fair, where you would be greeted by around 400 publishers from across the length and breadth of the Arab world.

Spread over 677 stalls, a thousand gazillions of books ranging from the paperback translations of the latest English blockbusters to voluminous reference materials, encyclopaedic research works and philosophical books, demonstrate the richness and diversity of the Arab publishing industry which produces approximately 60,000 new titles each year. Though Lebanon and Egypt still far outnumber other countries, as usual in any Arab book fair, Arab publishers from over 30 countries, which include a few western countries, display the cultural and literary flavours of their countries in the 16th edition of the fair.

Though the publishing industry in the Arab world, as elsewhere, was hit by the internet and visual media, some leading publishers felt that the internet had helped boost sales through reviews and articles. The book exhibitions are gaining popularity all over the Arab world with a steady rise in the number of exhibitors and visitors in every year, says Ziyad from Dar Usama publishing house, Lebanon. “Though we could not sell more titles during these ten days -- may be we have sold less number of books compared to the previous year, book fairs help us to reach out to more people and expand our influence among the prospective readers,” he adds.

Mosaic of cultures
The titles displayed exemplify not just the dynamism of the Arab publishing industry but also the diversity and adaptability of the Arabic as a cosmopolitan language. A relaxed stroll across the stalls would give you a glimpse of how Arabic has evolved as a multi-cultural and multifaceted language over a period. For instance, you could see the anthologies of Ahmed Shawqi and Mahmoud Darwish lying in close proximity to the translated works of Milan Kundera and Pablo Neruda; and classical Islamic jurisprudential works, published by Lebanon’s Dar al Fikr, interspersed with the translated works of western philosophers like Foucault and Frantz Fanon and neocon political theorist William Kristol.

According to Yousuf Bin Ibrahim Al Balushi, director of the fair, not only the number of foreign publishers but also that of visitors has increased substantially this year. Testifying to this statement was a cross section of readers and booklovers one would meet across the stalls – whether it be an Omani student of comparative literature in a foreign university buying an Arabic translation of Indian novelist Arundhati Roy’s Booker prize-winning God of Small Things, an elderly bibliophile picking up translation of Russian classics or Omani girls making beelines to buy translation of latest management books.

Arab publishers from non-Arab countries such as Germany, UK, US, Sweden, Turkey and Iran also attracted a lot of book lovers. “Iranian stalls at the book fair provide us with a rare opportunity to collect new titles in Shi’ite literature,” says Hasan Al Lawati, a visitor.

However, a number of publishers had a different opinion. “The on-going protests in various parts of the country have adversely affected the sale. We had a poor sale this year, compared to the last year. Even during the weekend, the turnout was very law,” says Noufal Saqr from Dar Al Sharooq publishing house, Egypt.

Bin Duried hall dedicated to English publishers and Al-Outabi hall to various government institutions from inside and outside the Sultanate, also wore a disappointing look. Most of the publishers in this section complained about a poor turnout with a few exceptions such as International Islamic Publishing House from Saudi Arabia which claimed a better sale compared to the previous year. “Since a lot of people here prefer Arabic translations to their English originals, we cannot expect them to visit our stalls”, quips a bookseller from Al Mutanabbi Bookshop.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Diurnal cycle

Picture by John Shannon, courtesy to

Before hatching out to all these sounds and furies,
the day was being incubated in the womb of night. 
A mounting pile of darkness stood guard over the process
so that no one will intrude to disturb the silence of meditation.

When born, the dawn faltered like a toddler,
while taking its unsteady steps from the eastern horizon.
The childhood was full of beans,
fed by flowers, lulled by birds and caressed by the dew.

The noon was in a buoyant mood
waxing flamboyant and exuding complacency.
Powered by an invincible sun at his mercurial ecstasy,
it betrayed no sign of abatement in the future.

But the dusk tottered down westwards like an old man
before it was buried in a black shroud after the sunset.
The moon was indifferent while writing the epitaph on the tombstone;
a melancholic breeze played a few elegiac notes
to the tune of a dirge sung by owls and crickets

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Pharaoh dethroned; what next in Egypt?

Last night a new era dawned on the banks of the River Nile and Egypt is all set to make its historic tryst with democracy. History was made in Tahrir square as the dictator bowed to an unprecedented popular uprising which unwaveringly lasted for 18 days, and decided to step down as the president of the country.

This peaceful popular revolution which unfolded in the streets across Egypt and culminated in the ouster of the country’s unpopular president Hosni Mubark brought to fore the role of Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and most organised opposition group, in bringing about the long-awaited democratic reforms in the country. Some western political analysts cast aspersion on the credibility of the Brothers in making the democratisation of Egypt a reality. But such arguments betray a mindset which considers democracy and Islam as two worlds apart.

Tarring all movements in the wider Islamist spectrum with the same brush is one of the glaring limitations of the western Islamic discourses. This sweeping generalisation resulted in the creation of some stereotypes which were indiscriminately and injudiciously applied to a wide assortment of entities ranging from terrorists and extremists to legitimate freedom fighters in  Palestine, pro-democracy movements across the Arab world and peaceful proselytisers world over. Such a highly opinionated discourse glossed over the fact that extremist movements like Al Qaeda sought to build their ideologies and doctrines in opposition to the more pervasive and dominant approach of Brotherhood and likeminded groups who stand for the democratic revival of their respective societies and have officially renounced the use of revolutionary violence to overturn existing Muslim states.

This wrongheaded generality also ignored the fact that extremist movements such as Al Qaeda drew their sustenance from Brotherhood’s “chain of betrayals of Islam’s cause” and its “collaboration with apostate regimes”. The ban against a widely accepted Islamic scholar like Tariq Ramadan from entering the United States some years ago and against Dr Zakir Naik from entering the United Kingdom in 2010 on some flimsiest pretexts well testify to this prejudices about what is going on in the Islamic world. A carefully crafted narrative pitted all these ‘fundamentalist’ groups against the so-called moderate and secular Muslims in this fictional war for the heart and soul of Islam. This division helped the dictators and anti people rulers in the region like Mubarak who used their iron hand in the velvet glove against all opposition groups ostensibly to ward off the fundamentalist threat from within.

If the Brotherhood garners the support of a large chunk of the Egyptian population and emerges victorious with flying colours in a free and fair election after the toppling of the president, how can we call that development anti-democratic? Let Egyptian people decide what they want. Egypt’s tradition and culture are very different from those of the western countries.

The argument that the relegation of religion and all religious groups is a prerequisite for democratization to happen in any country in the world is born out of sheer prejudice and ignorance about the ground realities in the Muslim world. We cannot promote and impose western democracy in Egypt projecting it as a universal democratic model. And it is preposterous to argue that the presence of Brotherhood will spoil the democratic prospects of Egypt as Islamist groups are inherently anti-democratic. Comparing the Brothers to Al Qaeda will serve only to downplay the prominent role the group plays in unifying the people of Egypt, a predominantly Muslim country, against a deeply entrenched dictator who was supported by the US and Israel. The Zionist country’s behind- the-scenes manoeuvres to appoint vice president Omar Suleiman, a close associate of its military and, as an interim president in the event of Mubarak’s ouster, clearly demonstrated that country’s interest in keeping a dictator at the helm of Egypt’s affairs at the expense of people’s desires. Also suspicious is Mubarak’s hastily appointment of Mr. Suleiman, who has long been touted by the CIA as a presidential successor, as the first vice president of the country in 30 years.

Brotherhood’s endorsement of political struggle, participation in existing political orders and focus on transforming the society from within, and the popularity it enjoyed among a wider section of the Egyptian population make it a potential player in the democratic reformation of Egypt. Another important factor about the Egyptian Brotherhood is that it maintains an ecumenical approach, unlike the extremist groups belonging to the Salafi stream including Al Qaeda which occasionally up the ante of sectarian divisions accusing Iranian-led Shias of plotting to dominate the Arabs and convert them to Shiism. Any attempt to marginalise the Brothers or underplay its role in the democratisation of Egypt will serve only the interests of the hardliners like Al Qaeda and the Zionist state which has been apprehensive of any democratic reform in its immediate neighbourhood.

The Brotherhood has to play a pioneering role in streamlining the smooth transition of Egypt to a democracy just like the AKP party played a constructive role in the liberation of Turkey from the tentacles of military Kemalism.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The shifting sands

When the final knock on the door is heard, get ready for the last shifting, but this time without carrying luggage and furniture because the new house will be tailor-made for your body.

Today I shifted to a new house, the third one in Muscat in less than two years of my life as an emigrant in the capital of Oman. Even for an expatriate, house shifting is something more than moving to a new rented building with all paraphernalia stuffed haphazardly in a few bags. No emigrant, in particular those who dream of a relaxed retired life in their far-off motherland, may seek to put up a permanent abode in a foreign country. But while choosing a new place to live in, even for a temporary period, you tend to weave new aspirations and dreams around it. From the very first day of finding a house, or even noticing the advertisement in a newspaper, you start to imagine the kind of new life you are going to lead afterwards, including the new facilities it may bring about and the difficulties and risks involved in the changed circumstances.

House shifting is as important as, if not more important than, job shifting. It requires kind of transplantation of body and mind to a new environment and might change your daily life in many ways. The change is something beyond the availability/lack of the material facilities inside the new house compared to the old one. A lot of other factors including the proximity of restaurants, foodstuff shops, place of worship and taxi/bus station, especially for a non-driving type like me, add to the physical as well as mental comfort of a new dweller.

Shifting houses has been a recurring phenomenon in my life from the childhood days. My father had changed at least nine houses before I was just 15 and my mother’s family had also a nomadic life for many years. As each shifting neared, we, children, were very excited about moving to the new wonderland. Once the shifting was decided, we used to imagine about the wonders of the new surroundings, leaving to the grownups in the family all the hard nuts to crack. The physical and mental strains involved in shifting a few furniture and utensils from a small one bed room flat made me think about the difficulties my parents had undergone while shifting from house to house in frequent intervals.

I also enjoyed shifting schools even mid- academic year. I studied in at least six schools before completing my secondary schooling and wrote my matriculation exams in a seventh one staying in a distant relative’s house.

However, this was followed by a period of relative consistency. A couple of years before his death, my father built his last house in this world by the side of a paddy field where we lived for more than 10 years till we shifted to our present house two years back. This was also coupled with ten consistent years in my academic life. I did my university education- from higher secondary to post-graduation- and completed my three-year stint as a teacher in a single campus. Even during this most consistent ten years in Markaz as a student and a teacher, I enjoyed shifting bed space, hostel rooms and even buildings. Owing to the dynamic and highly experimental principal of the institute, we found ourselves sitting in a different office room, library, teachers’ room, computer lab or lecture hall at the beginning of almost each academic year. It seemed as if he wanted to begin each year anew creating an impression of novelty in the same building by shifting the functions of each room. His penchant for change and innovation was so exalted that he frequently introduced relevant changes and modifications to the syllabus and curriculum. While many people pretend to be reluctant to changes and stick to the old ways of thinking and living, the philosophy of life is based on change and continuous transition and metamorphosis as evident from the history of human civilisation. The more you recognise the inevitability of change, the deeper you are recognising the transience of life.

Later, when I moved to Bangalore, I lived in three places in less than two years.

This recurrent shift of places may save one from the mechanical boredom of the mundane life, imparting a new rhythm to it. Like new years, new houses also tempt us to take new resolutions and pledges for a sweeping change in life. But the ultimate message each shifting conveys, whether it be of time or space or whether it be voluntary or forced, is the temporariness and mortality of all ours possessions. Each shifting is a stark reminder of the ultimate bankruptcy of human existence. We are not meant to stay anywhere for a long time. We have to shift from all space and time leaving back all our virtual possessions to the True Heir who has rightly staked his claim for inheriting the whole universe when all others realise, to their utter dismay, that they no longer own anything in this world.

You have to shift houses, because no house in this world is meant to be a permanent abode for you. While shifting a place you are simply forsaking your claim to whatever you have taken for yours. And one day you have to bid adieu to the new place that you perched on today with great expectations. While undersigning the tenancy contract or property sale agreement, you were signing under a false claim which will be proved redundant sooner or later.

You were incapable of deciding the place and time of your birth just as you will be helpless when the time of the final exit comes without any warning. Seconds tick by without asking your consent, eating into your time which you have always taken for granted. When the final knock on the door is heard, get ready for the last shifting, but this time without carrying luggage and furniture because the new house will be tailor-made for your body.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mind your words!

If words are means of expressions, supplication is the purest of all expressions.
Words have always been one of the most powerful weapons of mankind. If a large variety of materials were instrumental in the evolution of human civilisation from Stone Age to the most advanced era of Information Technology, words, be it uttered, written, recited, printed or even implied, have been central in moulding and recording all major developments in the annals of human history.
Whether it be the triumphant and ecstatic shouting of the aggressor or the anguished howl of the victim, whether it be the most sophisticated utterances of an intellectual or the rambling of a layman, they have perfectly represented the vicissitudes and intricacies of human life in all time. From the first word uttered by the first man in the world to the cries of the latest newborn, they signified and constituted one of the richest and most diverse elements of human culture on the Earth. There is no doubt that the legacy of human words continues to be great, powerful and appealing.

According to the glorious Quran, Adam, the first man, was taught certain names after his creation and before his interaction with this world. It was by virtue of these words that he cast a spell on angels who were completely dazzled by the knowledge of the first man on whose credentials they had cast aspersion earlier. It marked the dominance of human wisdom and the power of his knowledge which helped him master the world and emerge himself as the architect of civilizations and cultures. It was the superiority of language and advanced communication skills that differed man in many respects from other creatures who could not develop civilizations despite many advantages in terms of physical might and longevity.

While bestowing such an exquisite skill on man, God asked him to be very cautious about its utility. Apart from using it as a means to understand and interpret the world around him, man was also asked to employ it as a means to explore his intrinsic worth and purity and to develop his relations with his Creator and Lord. Islam considers understanding and discerning God as the most important fulfillment of human life. It suggests supplication, among many other things such as charity and social services which are also part of prayer in Islam, as an important factor to develop man’s relations with God.
 Man is advised to use his words, one of the most vital human faculties, to attain and maintain nearness to his Creator. Words are expressed mostly with a certain intention. Even some seemingly meaningless and senseless expressions serve a purgative function. If words are means of expressions, supplication is the purest of all expressions. Supplications are words expressed in their sincerest and purest form. Man’s words are supposed to become more sincere and truer in front of God because he cannot hide anything in front of his Creator who knows everything about him- and knows him better than he knows himself.
One can make expressions couched in ambiguous terms to other people because human language is so sophisticated, illusive and allusive that we can hide the truth in multiple ways. But any effort with language by the first person will be rendered ineffective if the second person knows the message even without the help of language. Therefore, prayer is the only occasion when man is fully incapable of hiding his real situation by means of his words. Seen in this perspective, for a believer, a servant of God, supplication is the admission of his reality and the confession of his servanthood; and prayer is an occasion to acknowledge and declare the quintessence of his existence.
Sincerity and truthfulness are the two attributes that man is asked to cultivate through his submission to God. But this spirit of truthfulness acquired through supplication is not a transient phenomenon. The believer is asked to renew this experience five times a day obligatorily and many other times voluntarily so that he can develop this acquired truthfulness as a fixed and genuine part of his character. Thus prayer is a constant training programme prescribed by God to make man understand his value and to be truthful to his real servanthood. If the prayer does not serve such as therapeutic purpose, both at individual and social level, it will merely become a futile exercise.
In short, spirituality is not something that comes from outside, though the entire universe is a potential source of inspiration for spiritual uplift. It germinates from within; and words become prayers when they are intrinsically true and sincere.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Torpedoing peace

The blatant and deadly pre-dawn raid by Israeli Naval Commandoes on a civilian flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to blockaded Gaza Strip, killing at least 10 people on board, has added to the image of Israel as a pariah state. With this latest version of state terrorism in international waters off the cost of Gaza, Israel military bears a striking similarity to the Somali pirates who follow the same modus operandi to hijack international trade ships.

By intercepting the "peace flotilla" through a bloody encounter that shocked the whole world, the message Israel wants to give to the global community is very clear: It wants to maintain the ineffective, illegal and unethical siege on Gaza at any cost. It also wants to continue to torture and terrorize hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip ostensibly to prevent Hamas from striking root. 

This massacre was only a means for the Jewish state to continue its genocidal persecution against one million and a half Palestinians who are suffering from devastation, lack of medicines, basic health services and food, muddy water and soil contaminated with uranium.

Unsurprisingly, for Israel it's not the siege that is illegal, but rather the flotilla. But the 'Freedom Flotilla' which had a Nobel Laureate, European lawmakers, authors, journalists and even an elderly Holocaust survivor on board did in no way pose a threat to Israel's security.

However, in a helpless frenzy to justify the egregious assault, the Jewish state has tried to sell the world a litany of lies. The hawkish Prime Minister who hastily came back from Canada
cancelling his visit to the United States has cracked a big joke saying that his troops were acting in self-defence .The Israeli navy's claim that they were forced to open fire in order to avoid being lynched and that the convoy were smuggling consignments of weapons to Gaza are utterly specious.  It was part of a chorus of lies by the Zionist propagandists about the mission of the flotilla even before it set sail from Cyprus.  Unsurprisingly, they went to the extent of saying that the convoy was funded by the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood and described it a violent attack on Israeli sovereignty.   The navy sought to disseminate the photos of construction materials, electric wheelchairs and water purifiers in the ship to create the impressions that the ship was on a belligerent mission.      

Its continuous flagrant violation of international law has landed Israel in the eye of a diplomatic storm.  The murder of senior Hamas official Mahmoud Al Mabhouh in his hotel room in Dubai had triggered widespread international condemnation across the world.  Now, with the attack against flotilla, Israel’s relations with Turkey, the most powerful Muslim ally, have plunged to a historic low. The United Nations and European Union have also called for a thorough investigation.

But the gutless White House statement without a single word of condemnation reveals that Washington is yet to come to terms with the hefty price it is paying for unabashedly supporting the Zionist terrorist state.   

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pray in rhythm with universe

He was in the twilight years of his life, bones waxing feeble and head shining with grey hair. Having grown old and infirm and the prospects of his old wife giving birth to a child becoming too bleak, he was deeply perturbed by the thought of dying without having a successor. He feared for his kinfolk, had he died without an heir to inherit the big family of Jacob of which he was the last patriarch. But the infirmity could not weaken his steely determination and resolve because he was still confident of a source of power within him which he believed could create wonders. He was convinced that the power of his supplication could far outshine all his infirmities. The old man desperately prayed for an heir to inherit the great legacy of his family. And when the Almighty responded in affirmative brining him the tiding of a son, it was almost unbelievable for him.

This is the story of Prophet Zachariah (peace be upon him) as depicted in the introductory verses of Chapter Maryam (Mary) in the Holy Quran. These verses and the following ones about Mary and her conceiving of and giving birth to Prophet Jesus (peace be upon them) shed light on the power of prayer in transforming the course human life. Through his ‘secret crying’, as the Quran described his prayer for a child, Zachariah could achieve what appeared beyond the bounds of possibility. It was his unflappable confidence and trust in God that prompted Zachariah to pray for obtaining a seemingly improbable thing.

Prayer is the humble expression of a creature’s trust in and devotion to his Creator God. It is the sincere declaration of his submission to Him. It brings man closer to his Lord and takes him away from arrogance and selfishness. While praying, man is admitting his limitations and helplessness and confessing his need to His eternal mercy and blessings.
Prayer imparts power and confidence to man. It makes him disregard worldly achievements and not mourn the losses in this world whatsoever. A sincere believer, who pins his hope on God, can hardly care about the losses. He believes everything is from God so that nothing can shake the indomitable spirit of his mind. Man who creates a secret link with His God by means of prayers is least concerned about the setbacks and adversities in life. Neither old age nor the waning of physical powers can weaken the strength and willpower of a praying mind.
Prayer is the purest expression of mind and the declaration of man’s freedom from all evils that will distract him from his mission in life. It is a secret affair between the creature and the Creator- an impassioned conversation of sorts between the two.

Prayer also signifies the equality of all people in front of God. No worldly power, possession and riches can influence the result of prayer. Its language is universal and it does not require any professional or educational skill and expertise. The prayer of the rich and well-to-do people does not have any edge over that of the poor. The prayer makes even the kings and rulers shed tears and lay prostrate in front of God so that they will understand the triviality and transience of the power they wield.

The Quran introduces worship of God as the first and foremost duty of all creatures in the world. It considers prayer as a natural and instinctive urge of all creatures, including the plants, birds, the sun, moons, stars and all living and nonliving beings. It describes even the swaying of shadows to and fro as an expression of their submission to the Creator.

For creatures, prayer heralds the freedom of their mind from the dependence on worldly things and addiction to their allure. It is an expression of their existential freedom and a natural music of their independent existence. It is as natural as any other universal phenomenon as diverse as the sprouting of plants, cadences of rain, roar of thunder, flash of lightning, chirping of birds and fragrance of flowers.
(to be continued)

Is military Kemalism on the wane in Turkey?

‘Would this Heart Forget You’ is a Turkish mini-series aired on every Tuesday. Some of its recent episodes have screened the torture scenes in the notorious prison at Diyarbakir. A former inmate was shown narrating the horrific tales of soldiers sticking truncheons up the prisoners’ anuses, urinating on them and forcing them to eat dead rats. Such a series tarnishing the image of military could not have been broadcast in Turkey some years ago when the military, the self-styled patron and guardian of Kemalism, held sway in the country.

With military becoming too weak to meddle in the politics, let alone stage-manage a coup as it used to do in the past , and the incumbent Social and Justice Party (AKP) making inroads to the emerging industrial, commercial, and financial bourgeoisie, Turkey seems to be waking up from the hangover of military Kemalism. But this transformation, including the noticeable shift in Turkey’s foreign policy, is seen in the west as the ascendance of a religiously rooted, conservative political party and the decline of the military which protected Turkey as the ‘bastion of secularism and democracy’ in the region. AKP’s dominance and the ongoing Ergenekon trial against the plotters of a failed coup are portrayed as a major hurdle in front of Turkey’s march to democracy and secularism.
Turkey’s stringent criticism of Israel’s Gaza offensive and its social and political alignment with once-estranged neighbours in the region have raised concerns in the West about Turkey’s credentials as a trusted ally and a prospective member of European Union. There is also growing apprehension that the rule of AKP will mark the end of Kemalism and deterioration of secularism and democracy in Turkey. The Islamists led by AKP are accused of looking to integrate the Turkey into the Muslim world at the expense of its long-time ally Israel.

But this lamentation about Turkey’s gradual shift from democracy to autocracy and secularism to religiosity after AKP assumed power in the country rings hollow. The moot question is whether AKP’s reaching out to its Arab neighbours and Iran and the broadside it fired at Israel over the aggression in the Gaza Strip really did any disservice to Turkey’s democracy and liberal policies.

After Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan repeatedly censured Tel Aviv for the massacre of 14,000 Palestinians in the Gaza war, the Jewish lobby in the west is trying to spread unfounded fears and apprehension about Turkey’s foreign policy shifts. This was part of an attempt to drive a wedge between Turkey and its close allies in the West including the United States. A case in point was Israel’s hardliner Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s comparison of Erdogan to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Venezuelan President Hugo Chaves. The underlying message of such diatribes was that one cannot criticize Israel without running the risk of being called undemocratic.

The transformation brought about by AKP in Turkey’s foreign and domestic politics has really helped the country break away from the cocoon of military Kemalism which has tried to impose its distorted version of democracy and secularism in Turkey. Since 1920s when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of Kemalism, declared the Republic of Turkey, military Kemalism has been trying to cultivate and guard European values in Turkish society. Turkey had never implemented the transformation of socioeconomic and cultural foundations envisioned by Ataturk through democratic establishments. On the contrary, a small group of military officials were tasked with ensuring Turkey’s embrace of European social, economic, and political practices.

When Military Kemalism sought to make Turkey Western in appearance, irrespective of conflicting diversities churning inside, Turkey was hailed democratic, forward looking and liberal. All these years, Turkey was under the overwhelming tutelage of a military which was never ready to relinquish its control over economy and extend greater rights to citizenry. The military has violated all democratic rights and uprooted religious freedom, seeking to mould Turkey in the cast of Europe. Yet, paradoxically it may sound, it was described by the West as the only democracy in the region after Israel.
Though Kemalist Turkey was declared to adopt modern and liberal economics, it resorted to state control of economy in as early as1930s ostensibly to weather the repercussions of the great depression. As a trusted ally of the Western block during the cold war, the Military enjoyed the patronage of the West including the US which stage-managed Ismet Inonu’s military coup in 1960s. Inonu, who had been voted out as President after 12-year long autocratic rule, came back to power with full US support and hanged the country’s first freely elected Prime Minister Adnan Menders. This was followed by another coup in 1980 which helped the Military push through an authoritarian constitution. The last in the series of successful coups came in 1997 when the generals brought down a democratically elected government on the flimsiest pretext of protecting secularism and preventing the imposition of Sharia-law.

The West aided and abetted the Military to rule this so-called rare example of secular democracy in Muslim world with a heavy hand and iron fist during and after the cold war. But the coup-mongering army was the biggest obstacle to Turkey becoming fully democratic. Through its persistent meddling in politics, policies smacking of perceived aversion to Islam (such as banning Islamic political parties, incarcerating their leaders and expelling suspected members from government posts) and hawkish stance on some of the thorniest issues such as Kurds and Cyprus, the military was really trying to nip the buds of democracy in the country.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who wanted a western-styled nation free from the Islamic rule that the Ottoman Empire had thrived under banned Islamic education, the Arabic script and changed Constantinople to Istanbul.  

AKP’s emergence and coming to power marked a shift in Turkey’s polity and economy in many respects. Notwithstanding the shortcomings natural to any nascent democracy dominated by one party, the AKP could usher in a new era of democratic change in the country through its various administrative measures to improve civil liberties and minority rights and promote civilian control of the military and free market. The ruling party seems to be unflappable by the resistance against its constitutional reform package from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the political home of the traditional elites, and HSYK, a panel of the judiciary known for its anti-government stance. The AKP’s steadfastness is well reflected in Erdogan’s confidence when he said ‘we will either write history or become history’.

Turkey, now in its tryst with democracy, looks more at ease with its European and Asian neighbours than it was during the heydays of the military. The farther the military is detached from power in Turkey, the more democratic and market-oriented the country has become. The more comfortable it becomes with its Islamic identity, the more at peace it will be with its neighbours. The posterity will prove whether there was more to read into what Erdogan said: ‘Arabs and Turks are brothers and we share same values’.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Israel rides roughshod over Goldstone

Israeli diplomats and politicians and the Zionist lobbyists in the United States have recently jumped on the bandwagon initiated by the right-leaning Israeli media to discredit and malign the former South African Judge Richard Goldstone who had accused the Zionist state of war crimes during its 22-day devastating military operation in the Gaza strip. The flimsy and insubstantial charge against Goldstone is that his United Nations investigation report against Israel was an attempt to cover up for his own ‘botched human rights record’.

One Israeli news paper which spearheaded the attack accused him of sentencing many African blacks to death on behalf of South-Africa’s apartheid-era regime. This report was, as if on cue, circulated by pro-Israel supporters using it as a rod to beat Goldstone and expose his double-standard on human rights issues. The vilification campaign which is not sufficiently grounded in fact went to the extent of comparing Goldstone to Josef Menegel, the Nazi doctor notorious for his experiments on inmates at the Auschwitch concentration camp. Some Jewish lobbyists in the US seized upon the opportunity to seek to bar Goldstone from entering the Unites States for his alleged collusion in the human rights violations in apartheid South Africa.

But the track record of Richard Goldstone makes it clear that though he ceived the appointment to the bench like many a liberal judge of the time, he was one of a small group of judges who tried their best to mitigate the oppressions of the apartheid regime. As Goldstone himself said to the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the official obligation to uphold the law of the country had landed him in a moral dilemma which he tried to solve with the approach that ‘it was better to fight from inside than not at all’.

Despite the stringent laws in the apartheid South Africa where capital punishment against the black on flimsiest of pretexts was a routine event, Richard Goldstone had sentenced only two people to death on a murder case during his tenure as the judge. Besides, a number of death-penalty appeals failed from 1910 to 1994 when he served a member of a panel of three Judges in the Supreme Court of Appeal. His appointment by none other than Mr Mandela to South Africa’s new constitutional court after the end of apartheid era testifies to his credentials as a liberal judge.

In its haste to shift the international criticism away from its war crimes in Gaza, Israel was embarking on an unfounded maligning campaign against the South African judge who has been subjected to severe censure of the Zionist state since the UN report on its Gaza offensive came.

But surprisingly enough, Israel, a country which brazenly replicates the harsh laws of apartheid-era South Africa at its own soil against the Palestinians, was one of a few supporters and the most reliable arms supplier of the erstwhile South African regime. South Africa had become the single largest customer, accounting for one third of its military exports, of the Israeli defence industry by 1979. The Zionist regime which aided and abetted the apartheid regime and followed in its footsteps by creating the largest apartheid wall in the world at its soil to keep the Palestinians at bay, have no right to criticise the human rights credentials of Richard Goldstone.

Through its campaign against Goldstone, the hawkish Zionist regime betrays its self-serving effort to hide and obfuscate the truth regarding its military vandalism in Gaza. Incensed by the growing international pressure to launch a credible investigation to the killing of 1, 300 Palestinian civilians in its onslaught and to end its illegal settlement in the occupied territories, Israel is desperately resorting to levelling unfounded charges against its critics and nay-sayers.


The cradle where my infantile thoughts started to stretch their wings...