The Silk Route

This post is submitted by reader Jolly Shah

I am about to complete a year in Afghanistan this August. Before I moved here, I had decided to write about the country and my experiences here but I procrastinated until I got this urge today to write. And write first about what- women and Afghanistan! Before my first visit here in 2011, whenever I thought of Afghanistan, the image that came in front of my eyes was of women walking in blue burqas- the special burqas called “shuttle cock” burqas wore by women in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. I am aware that what Muslim women wear has come under scrutiny for all the right and wrong reasons for a while but these Afghan blue burqas, I am intrigued with and I am sure this is case with many of us.

I must admit that there is a lot more to Afghanistan than these images of blue ghostlike figures walking. The country’s history predates ancient silk route and Alexander’s conquest, is a melting pot for South Asia and Central Asia and culturally speaking- melting pot also for Indian subcontinent and Persian cultures. There is a lot more I can go on writing but I will keep that for other articles. The more I am knowing this country, the more I am fascinated and falling in love with it even when I see it more and more as a beautiful country with ugly problems and even uglier geopolitics!

For now, I will go back to my first image of Afghanistan- women in blue burqas. I have not come to terms with it and I do not know if I ever will. Wearing these burqas separate women from their environment and in some ways gives them protection as they become invisible. To me and to many others, they are epitome of suppression of women. And height of suppression would be to deny someone their identity. Few years ago when I joined international charity Oxfam that strived to work globally with one of their aims- Right to an identity. Initially, it did not impress me much, however, the more I lived, the more I learnt about the world, I realised how millions of people, especially women are denied an identity! Coming from India, like most patriarchal societies, so far, your identity was about being someone’s daughter, wife or mother. Old saying in Gujarati even proclaimed women to be source of conflict putting them at par with land and gold; thus nothing more than one of the properties of a man.

Blue Burqas

 

It is interesting to study Afghan culture where honour is the utmost important thing even to the poorest man. The country has endemic domestic violence and violence against girls/women in the most atrocious forms you can think of. However, what I don’t see is the regular harassment on the street or ill-treatment of women in the public that we experience in India on everyday basis. It led me to think how come a culture where violence against women is so prevalent, however, is limited to the four walls only? Ah…women are subject of man’s honour! You may kill them, torture them in private with most heinous crime you can do against women but in public they are symbol of a man’s honour and messing up with it means your generations will keep killing each other for the animosity you will saw by jeopardising a man’s honour and his property! In my genocide special class in Oxford, I remember being told how rape is being used as an instrument of war and it is a man talking to another man! Rape as an act of genocide, where a man is communciating to the other men that your women will bear our children (and not yours)! What makes Afghan situation unique is the lethal combination of Pashtunwali (the Pashtun code) and fundamentalist Islam and the relatively liberal non-pashtuns too follow similar standards for treatment of women partly due to residual effect of Taliban ruling and partly by choice, hence the ubiquitous blue burqas!

A Pakistani friend from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa told me that these shuttle cock burqas were widely seen during his mother’s day and now they see it as symbol of dumbness. He added that women wearing shuttlecock burqa are perceived to be so dumb that they can’t even cross road properly. I wanted to know more about it so I asked this friend to bring one for me. Besides my curiosity about it, it is a security/defence tool allowing me to run on the street in event of an attack. Over a social evening, me and our diplomatic guests had good go at trying it on (including one of the ambassadors of a western European country) and having a good laugh but in that process we realised there is barely 2-3 inches of netted space that is your window to the world. Of course you cant see car passing by due to limited vision and your are likely to be seen dumb while crossing road and that too with 2-3 children and some shopping that you are carrying.

And then I got invited to two different Afghan wedding parties for women. I was stunned with what I saw there! Underneath those blue burqas, there are these absolutely stunning women, they have a personality; they have an identity. My own colleagues whom I did not seen before without a hijab were without one and their hair open and flowing with smart make up on just made me feel great about who they are and they too echo similar feelings! One of them who is in her mid-forties told me that when she went to university in Mazar more than 20 years ago, she has a bob cut hair and she wore knee-length skirts! I had to remind myself that I live in a country with beautiful men and women and no doubt the first beauty cream of India was named “Afghan Snow”!

There are lot many interesting things about Afghanista and women in Afghanistan. I hope to tell more and more stories of it in coming days.

Friends of the Kathputli Colony, Delhi

This letter came to me and I thought it was worth  publishing :

Dear Sir

We are writing to you on behalf of the traditional artists at Kathputli Colony, Delhi.

This colony is a beautiful hub of different communities of artists from different states of India who have been living here for more than 50 years. You must be already acquainted with the colony artists as they have performed in your movie “Bandit Queen” and Guddi Didi who even sang for the movie.

This colony is a special heritage site for it is home to puppeteers, street magicians, animal trainers, jugglers, acrobats, dancers, singers, toy makers, sculptors, poets and also non-artists residents who serve the city through their various professions and live in harmony with the art and culture the residents have so meticulously nurtured and continued with over the years.

This colony is now facing the danger of eviction and might be shifted to a transit camp and later into tiny flats where they fear that they shall not be able to continue with their traditional professions and way of life. How would the puppeteers create and store life size puppets in that space? Where would people sculpt? Where would the Ayurveda doctors prepare medicines? How would the acrobat carry huge bamboo poles in high rise apartment lifts? How would they perform and practice in open as they do in their interactive community life now? The colony residents request that they must not be forced to shift into a way of life that would destroy this heritage forever. They ask, can this colony not be redesigned instead as a heritage colony which provides them space to nurture their art forms and perform, to continue with tradition and also serve Tourism?

Secondly, these maestros who enthrall public all around the world in the name of Indian Tradition, do they not deserve respect and support from their own country? Currently their court proceedings are on and they have permission from Lt. Governor to continue staying here for at least a month, but they are still being harassed and threatened to vacate. This is severe blow to their morale and their self-respect. It is setting such a terrible example for their future generations, why should then they even continue with these art forms?

On internet, we have support from around the world, people liking the page, putting up photographs, hardly does this support get converted on ground. We request every person who respects this heritage to demand just and dignified treatment for this colony and humbly request for your support as well.

friendsofkathputlicolony@gmail.com

 

Ocean of Imagination

In this infinite ocean

of imagination

within which exist

infinite ripples

of imagination

 

Each ripple colliding with another

creating infinite ripples

of imagination

 

Ceaseless, eternal

never-ending

no one ripple imagining the whole

yet forever and constantly

changing the whole

 

Out of this imagination

matter forms

out of this imagination

matter is destroyed

 

The big bang

just one more ripple,

The black hole just a ripple

colliding with another

 

And so God said

Let their be light

And there was light ….

A Inspirational Life : Joao Carlos Martins

João Carlos Martins was enjoying a brilliant career as a concert pianist, with performances at prestigious venues such as New York’s 2,800-seater Carnegie Hall, when disaster struck. Asports injury damaged a nerve in his right hand and, at the age of 28, he had to accept that he had lost the ability to play perfectly – even though at an emotional level he still longed to play. He sold all his pianos and reinvented himself, somewhat bizarrely, as a boxing entrepreneur.

While watching the boxers, he was inspired by how they kept fighting despite adversity and hard knocks. He told himself: ‘I am a coward; I gave up too easily and now I’m no longer giving the best of myself’. So he quietly bought back his pianos and began practising again. He found that, by adapting hisstyle of play, he could still produce mesmerising music. After five years, he called his former agent and suggested a comeback. With a feeling of fear and hope, Carnegie Hall was again booked. On the day of the comeback performance, he took a taxi to Carnegie Hall.

The traffic was much worse than usual and the taxi driver said: ‘I have no idea who is playing tonight but he’s surepacking out the whole place!’. That night was the greatest of Martins’ life, as the New York audiences welcomed him back with ovation after ovation. Martins received a recording contract to play all the works of J. S. Bach. But while working on this, disaster struck again. Street thieves mugged him for the sake of his wallet; they hit him over the head with an iron bar. The brain damage affected his playing and forced him to quit.

During a dream he felt that he was told to become a conductor. So, at the age of 64, he took his first lesson in how to conduct an orchestra. His musical talent allowed him to make rapid progress – and he forged yet another career out of adversity. Today, as well as conducting top orchestras, he reaches out to others who are struggling against adversity – to the poor of Brazil who live in slums. Through a Foundation, Martins is aiming to create 1,000 string orchestras throughout the favelas. Martins told at a gathering recently: “Before everything, I love life!”

 

He then showed his love of life and music by playing a wonderfully emotionally piece of music, with the few fingers that still obey the commands of his brain. And as so often before, he received a standing ovation.

Request Denied … A short story

“Hey Rob”

“Hey”

“Hey who ?” I insisted.

Rob is my Big Data Alias.  Spawned from Octopi. Or Big O.  The latest, most comprehensive intuitive Big Data Analytical tool ever.

‘Why Octopi ?  Because She spawned infinite amount of tentacles .. as She got into every nook and corner of our Digital existence.  And the tentacle that got inside of me,  I call Rob.

I tried to get Rob to call me Shekhar.  Thats my name. Really.

“Shekhar” I said,  “My name is Shekhar”

Rob instantly analyzed all the ‘Shekhars’ that may have existed in the last 100 years, with every conceivable spelling, and said it was not specific enough. Too many variables.

” So what would you like to call me ?” I insisted.

“From what context ?”  Asked Rob.

“From the context that I am an Individual, Rob . You know . I am Me .. I  ?”

“No, you were and Individual. Before I was born.”

Jesus ! He does not get it , does He ?

“Then what am I” I ask Rob.

” You are a tendency”    Said Rob.

Oh Great.  Am I losing this argument ? Try harder, Shekhar, try harder.

” I am a tendency ?  Sure. That makes me unpredictable, and therefore I am Human, And therefore Individual. Correct ?”

” Incorrect. You were unpredictable. Not anymore. I took care of that. You have no more problems on that account”.

The waitress has brought the check.  Thats it. Switch off your phone. Kill Rob.  No smart device. No Rob.

The Waitress takes the check. But comes back. Looks at me accusingly.

‘Your card has been rejected, Sir”

Everyone looks at me with that look. That  ‘Poor Guy’  treatment.

“Why ?  Let me call my Bank.  I will fix it”

“Not your Bank, Sir. Your Big Data Alias rejected your card”.

Rob. I am going to kill you. Back to my smart phone. Hey Rob.

“Why did you reject my card , Rob ?”

“Because you did not order any meat”

“Rob, I decided to be vegetarian. So I did not order meat, OK ?”  Now my voice is rising. People are staring.

” You have no tendency to be vegetarian. Sorry. You have to order meat”

I explode.

“I WANT TO BE VEGETARIAN”

The security guards are walking towards me.  This is embarrassing. The waitress is complaining to them. For what ? Harassment ? Oh My God !

I tone down my voice.

“Please Rob. Please. I want to be vegetarian. Please ask Big O ?”

A moment of silence. Phew. Rob has compassion. I like him, really. He is taking my request to his Boss. I love you Rob !

Back came the response in seconds.

“Sorry. Too many vegetarians in your vicinity. Bad for the Meat Packing Industry. Request denied”.

Request Denied.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONSTITUTION OF INDIA

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to
constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:  

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;

LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;

EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;

and to promote among them all

FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity
and integrity of the Nation;

IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of
November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO
OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION

Hrithik Roshan and Paani

Which Director in his right mind would ever give up a chance to work with Hrithik Roshan ?

He has been one of the most exciting actors in Hindi Cinema for a long time.  And a huge star to boot.  Some years ago I predicted he would be the first Indian actor to hit Hollywood big time. Like I mean really, in the A list.  I am surprised that he has not done so. Maybe Hindi films keep him too busy. Maybe he will after the next Krish

And years ago, as I sat down to write Paani, I had one image in mind to play the male lead. Hrithik Roshan. The character I described in the script was completely Hrithik. His manner, his inner world, his conflicts .. were all Hrithik. I sat with AR Rahman and as we composed music together, I always would ask him to imagine Hrithik.

But then the years passed. I got involved with Hollywood. Other projects ensnared me away from the project that was my deepest passion .. Paani.  And as the years passed, and the script kept evolving.. changing.  And Hrithik changed too. He went from being a young man uncertain of himself, a young man looking for his identity in this world, with no understanding of the power, the rebellion inside him that would change his life…..

….to what Hrithik is today. The Super Hero. The man who is the protector, the man who can take on the world single handedly. The man who knows he can take on the world singlehandedly. Hrithik evolved into Krish.

And I realized I had left it too late…..

So while I lost the chance to cast Hrithik in Paani, I hope that he would still agree to be in one of my next films. In Hollywood probably.

For which Director in his right mind would ever give up the chance to work with Hrithik Roshan ?

Armenia Turkey and Genocide

I am receiving many responses on my blog to the news that I intend to make a film on the Armenian Genocide.  Many different points of views. Many wanting to share experiences of their family members that told them stories of those times that  have been etched in their minds. Many different interpretations of history too.  So I am creating a stream on my blog for everyone to be able to respond to each other in series of what hopefully will turn out to be a a very very constructive conversation. Please feel free to respond to each other.

I start with a letter from Phillip Hagopian

Hi,
I am writing in response to an article about Mr. Kapur’s upcoming project concerning the Armenian Genocide. First one must consider that modern day Armenia is located in a strategic region ( borders Iran and close enough to Russian border to be of importance ) , furthermore it is a region imbued with controversy due to several influences attempting to monopolize academia and revise the long known facts of history. The article mentions that the Ottoman Turks victimized Armenians who had lived in Anatolia for “generations” after immigrating from the northeast ( incidentally that northeast region which is now modern day Armenia geo-political borders is a mere tiny fraction of what comprized Armenians very , VERY ancient motherland {13,500 B.C. oldest permanant settlement ever uncovered – Gobecki Tepe – built by Armenians ). Talaat pasha ( along with Djemal and Envers Pasha ) who spearheaded the official genocide in 1915 stated , “We will erase all trace and memory of Armenians from their ancient motherland”. My point is , we did NOT immigrate to Anatolia AFTER the Ottoman Empire began decimating our population 700 years ago. WE WERE ALWAYS THERE. Yes, we were indigenous to the region since before recorded history. The facts become slightly murky prior to 15,000 years ago but the most widely accepted version of our history( prior to the social-political-academic shifts after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. ) was that Armenians may have migrated from the Indus River valley between sixty and twenty thousand years ago however some archeologists and historians asserted that Armenoids had “always” been in the fertile crescent and trade and migration occured between India and Arratta ( Armenia’s older name ) back and forth over thousands of years ( there is a distinct linguistic connection between Sanskrit and Armenian language ) . My point is Armenia is now the subject of heated and controversial debate. Clearly there are motives for the propagandists to revise this history. This occurs mostly from Turkey and it’s allies but oddly enough the propagandists have now surfaced WITHIN ARMENIA in effect carrying out and fiinishing Talaat’s initiative to erase us from our motherland. We have suffered and still do suffer greatly from not only physical genocide and war but also cultural genocide from the misinformation and “sell-out” historians who betray a history which until very recently was firmly established. It is the same as claiming Native Americans sailed to America a few years AFTER the English landed in Plymouth harbor on the American coast. After all we have endured let the record PLEASE be set straight. We are the indigenous people not only of ALL of ancient Turkey , the fertile crescent , and the western part of the Persian gulf but also Northern Iran and Iraq. Later our kingdom expanded from the Meditteranean Sea to the Caspian ( 2000B.C. ) but never , NEVER were our people limited to the tiny northern region which is now the geo-political borders of modern tiny Armenia.I pray the principles of truth will prevail. Thankyou and good wishes on your very fine productions.”
Kindness .. by Eshla

It’s time to be nice.  Loosen those grumpy pants.  No need for them right now.  You can put them back on after January 1st.

It’s time to be jolly, a friend jokingly says to me.  “I love this time of the year.  You know why?  Because everyone is happy, finally!  They’re finally out of their cranky moods and are nice to strangers even.  Just think.”

Christmas has that effect.  At the holidays we have an epiphany and realize that we really should be nice to each other.  Shocking.

I wonder though why year round we don’t have that desire, why we don’t notice those around us, why we don’t say hello to the stranger, and most of all why we don’t even share those small acts of kindness with our loved ones.  But once a year, we plow through packed parking lots and a thicket of shoppers to get a trinket that will embody our kindness and love for a dear friend or family member.

“My religion is very simple.  My religion is kindness,” is what the Dalai Lama famously uttered.  And he said, “Be kind whenever possible.  It is always possible.”  Now he has been quoted endlessly for this simple thought.  But it’s true.  It’s always possible – not just every December.  Above the other paths we follow, be it religion, profession, vocation, we should consider kindness.

Even ancient thinkers such as Aristotle wrote of a selfless kindness that supersedes your needs for other’s needs.  Nietzsche referred to kindness, which is the premise of love, as one of the “most curative herbs and agents in human intercourse.”  But, really this is not rocket science.  As we know kindness begets kindness.

And no, this is no hokey pokey Miss World speech.  But as many philosophical and spiritual texts tell us, the thoughts that we have form who we are: “All that we are is the result of what we have thought.”  So kind thoughts form a more empathetic soul.

That’s why it’s imperative: for us to be happy spirits and live in a community that works, that’s interlinked.  Those kind souls then look at the world with a different lens: they are more gentle towards the earth, towards their bodies, and towards those around them.

The grudges that we hold year-round, the frustrations that eat us and fray our hairs into gray strands, the disputes that we refuse to compromise on, the situations that we resist to look at from another angle –  they all eat away that kindness.  Yet, the only thing that can diffuse them is kindness.

As I smacked golf balls on the range last week for the first time (an exercise largely to amuse myself and my instructor), my instructor said something simple but kind: “We’re all fragile.”  Hence, a dose of kindness is essential, not just the polite thing to do it.  Or as Plato wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”

After the horrific incident in Newton earlier this week, NBC journalist Ann Curry threw out this idea – why not we counter the sad and ruthless event with acts ofkindness.   Quickly the message spread on Twitter and a new hashtag was eating up the Twitter feed: #26Acts.    And folks on Twitter began sharing kind ideas.   Since Sunday, almost 200,000 messages about this wave of goodwill have appeared on social media, coming from places far as Afghanistan, Russia, and Finland.  Words translated into action, smacking down barriers.

 

Kindness echoes, unites, forgives, pacifies, and nurtures.  It’s a rather universal medicine not just for others but for ourselves.  It reminds us that we’re part of something bigger.  The key is to be kind at the core, not just on the surface.  Empty words of kindness are about as nice as stale fruitcake.

 

So, consider retiring those grumpy pants this year.

To love till it hurts ? : By Eshla

LOVE:

It’s that time of the year when everyone remembers their so-called “loved ones.” They equip them with mementos, gifts, christmas parties – all in celebration of their love for one another. But, it’s only fleeting. Just a few weeks of joy, mirth, and gaiety.

But isn’t love a bit more?

Love is to let go, I’ve been told. Love is to let be, I’ve been told. Love is to endure hardships, I’ve been told. But, if there is so much angst and heartache, then why do we choose to love? Or is that so few love to this extent?

There is the famous saying by Mother Theresa that if you love until it hurts, it doesn’t hurt anymore, for it’s there only that you find more love.

But do we really retain the capacity to love to that depth? We’re a generation and a world clogged by the daily clutter of life, the daily “busyiness” of life, that our love only seems to surface when we can accommodate it or when an emergency strikes. If we are such rational creatures, driven by schedules, real-world demands, and the practicalities of life, do we have space for such raw emotion?

Is it naive to think that love of such a nature still exists?

Love has been captured in great epic novels, in larger-than-life cinema, in the intensity of celebrated paintings, but is it still there, lingering somewhere in the mundane corners of life now? Do we still have the patience to wait, like the great heroes of these stories, to endure – for the one we love?

But what is the reward in loving to this extent? An old chinese saying says that it’s in being deeply loved that we find strength, and it’s in loving someone deeply you find courage. It’s a paradox in many ways -you love to find comfort and support, but to love is to take a leap of faith.

Perhaps it’s idealistic, immature, romantic, escapist to believe that love of such grandeur still exists. But, then I wonder, if it doesn’t, is our purpose in life merely to fulfil a series of endless tasks, that too on a daily basis. Then what satisfaction do we get? Maybe I’m flawed. Maybe I don’t find that satisfaction anymore in the rationality of life, maybe I crave for emotions that are too risque to find in our modern, conservative society.

And yet, the hunger for love seems to be greater than the hunger for bread. I’m told repeatedly that are many unhappy wealthy people in the world – they found riches, but never unconditional love.

So does it still exist? That pure, simple love – the one that dwells in a man’s heart, deep in his soul, the one that makes him yearn for his loved one when she’s not there, the one that makes him stop in his day, and say something meaningful to her, the one that is celebrated everyday, not just on a holiday, the one that is not about convenience or comfort but a raw desire?

For me, I became passionate about writing because it was a means to express, a means to share with humanity your angers, frustrations, and galvanize change. It is a career built on love – it’s foolish to believe that you can ever fill your belly with that kind of writing. Words that are free, honest, brutal, and humble do not have a price. It’s only the words that are tailored, adjusted, accommodated for by other opinions that have a price. But then, they are no longer pure, raw, or unconditional.

Love is similar, for me. As I look ahead, I find myself at a crossroads – do I invest myself and my time in my so-called “work” or in love, in relationships with people that have depth? To answer the question, “So what do you want to do when you grow up?”

I want to love. I don’t know if I have the capacity to do so. I don’t know if I have the patience to do so. But I want to try.

For it’s only the few fleeting moments of love that have made me feel alive, have made me feel worthwhile, have helped me find peace. No check, no podium, no laurel, no honor has given me that feeling.

That’s why I’d like to believe, deep within my being, that life is designed to feel the complexities of love. Even if it’s old-fashioned. Even if it’s hard. Even if it’s not the norm today.

Because love is built on two, not one. And that’s what life is about – us, not me.