Open up your mind and your potential reaches infinity…

A 75 year old Syrian Christian lady from Hama, works with my friend’s home as a cook. Apart from the fact that she makes amazing Syrian food, my  friend has employed her to support her financially. Not sure how she came here(as I have not interrogated her), but I know my friend worked hard to get her husband from Syria. The old man was served two deportation orders failing to obtain asylum until about six months ago, the Canadians accepted his application after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. The gentleman is going through treatment now here in Canada.

My friend is also working to get her widowed daughter, with two sons 21 and 22 years old who are stuck in Syria. Her daughter’s husband had died in Syria 3 years ago from some medical ailment, failing to get treatment. My friend is working through a nearby mosque she attends to raise funds to call the family as privately sponsored refugees.

Each time I meet her and inquire about her daughter and sons, she has only sad stories to share, of their struggle back home. According to her is no employment, no school and no medical care available where they live currently.

The dedication with which she cooks in my friends house is touching, knowing how hard it is for her own close kin back home.

In my endeavor to look for how Syrians at home and abroad are coping with the conflict, I have been referred to some very creative Syrians who are expressing their pain and agony through various artforms. This only bears witness to the amazing intellect in the Syrian nation, caught in a filthy regional hegemony war.

Nizar Ali Badr a stone sculptor from ‪#‎Latakia‬, ‪#‎Syria‬ now residing in Turkey makes stones sculptures telling ‪#‎Syrian‬ story of torture, war and refugees.
Simple assembly of stones speak of the complex emotions, which words would fail to convey at times.

In his words: “I love dust and stones from.Syria. My message is a humanitarian message.”



Some of his works that portray peace and love are also extremely pleasing.

Nazir13Nazir14 Nazir3


They say miracles do happen and stones do speak. May these powerful stony expressions somehow turn into prayers for peace in Syria.


Last week we welcomed in an event three Syrian families who had barely arrived 48 hours ago. Their weather beaten faces were all glowing with smiles.
I asked a 7 year old girl, “What do you like best in Canada?”
She replied with the widest possible grin, “The warmth.”
I thought she meant the hospitality.
Her mom explained with a twinkle in her eyes, “We were living in tents for 2 years. She grew up not knowing that in extreme cold there can be clothes thick enough and home warm enough to avoid cold weather.”
I hugged the mom tight.

Below are a few mind blowing illustrations of Syrian Kurds  by Molly Crabapple, a medical illustrator by proffession. Molly had gone to work with Doctors Without Borders in a Kurdish Syrian Refugee Camp. She illustrated not only their images but also their dreams and fears in words.

Every piece is like reading a novel, that touches somewhere deep. Kindly take time to read the small print too.



For past 5 years, I thought we had been a brave family to have immigrated to far away Canada. We came with a comfort of enough preparation in spirit and in kind.

Never in my mind did I imagine I would be working closely in different capacities for refugees from Syria. The experience of meeting and getting to know some of them has been an incredibly humbling experience.

Refugee was only a word we had often heard and thought understood it’s meaning very well. Knowing its implications, and associating names and faces to this word has been an experience that struggles to find adequate expressions in words.

May Canada and we Canadians be a source of peace and warmth to these new Canadians and all those that arrive in weeks from now.


More War Art blogs to continue…



Syrian war is a shame of our times.

This war had reset the standards of barbarism. Almost all kinds of war weapons have been used from both sides- brutal killings, burning the victims, rapes, hunger, seige and you name it.

I have personally talked to Syrian Refugees Muslims, Christians and Kurds, arriving here, and they speak of Assad and ISIS as the #SAMESHIT. Not one said they were happy with Assad.

As I post the  Channel 4 News Video on Homs, Syria,  a friend comments:
“This level of barbarity should not be possible in today’s day age. Yet, looking at the complete destruction of this city leaves me speechless !”

The images remind me of an artwork from Syria that had gone viral a few years ago. I hunt and hunt and finally dig out a treasure to my amazement.

It was first  of a series  work by Syrian artist Tammam Azzam, who studied fine arts from University of Damascus. Azzam used the devastating, war ravaged images from Syria and superimposed renowned master pieces of the art to send a polite message to the world.

His first piece “Freedom Graffiti” in which he used The Kiss by Gustav Karl was the piece that went viral in February 2013.  Syria1

The other images in the series, by the same artist are equally mindblowing:

Andy Warhol’s ElvisSyria2- Andy Warhol's Elvis


Henry Matisse’s The Dance: Syria3 Henry Matisse's The Dance

Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night:Syria4 Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night

Edward Munche’s The Scream
Syria5 Edvard Munch's The Scream

Francisco Goya’s The 3rd of May 1808:Syria6 Francisco Goya's The 3rd of May, 1808

Paul Gauguin’s Tahitian Women:Syria7 Paul Gauguin's Tahitian Women on the Beach

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa:Syria8 Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa.jpg

Salvadore Dali’s Sleep:Syria8 Salvadore Dali's Sleep.jpg

Finally he sends an affectionate message to the world powers especially those engaged in Geneva Talks, which obviously has fallen on deaf ears so far.

Geneva Bon Voyage:Geneva Bonvoyage.jpg

As the brutal world powers wrangle and wrestle over the fate of his people, failing to agree for peace, Tammam Azzam and many other artists try to touch the conscience of international community, to pay heed that the Syrian plight.

More such series of other art works and artforms from Syria will follow in subsequent blogs.

May the art work heal us all. May peace be with us all.




Growing up in New Delhi in 70s and 80s was very ordinary. It was not until the late 80s when the Ram Janm Bhoomi issue surfaced, and insecurities increased,  that one realized what seemed an ordinary childhood, was actually une expérience extraordinaire.

We lived in a neighborhood where majority of the residents were of other faiths, most of them warm and friendly, with few exceptional ‘communal’ individuals or families.Their prejudiced remarks gave a little break to the usual monotony of goodness, and nothing more.

Those who had not met any Muslim families before befriending us, pampered us with adorable innocent judgmental compliments, “We didn’t know Muslims are so nice and broadminded too.” 

As ambassadors of a ‘good’ Muslim family, we were unknowingly breaking the stereotypes of  ‘backward’ Muslims.

Papa would often  joke, “Jee main Musalman huun mager meri ek hi biwi hai, aur sirf teen bachey hain. Aur merey daarhi bhi nai hai.”  There would be laughter and  humorous replies in response like, “Jee hum Brahmin hain lekin  hamare bhi sir per choti nai hai.” 

All was going well. :)

Our cultural boundaries were unmarked by our parents, thus letting us experience  fascinating blend of Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb. One of the most beautiful examples this blend was Ammi. Though from a Syed family, she grew up in Jaipur amidst Rajputs, and then got married in a Sheikh family of Delhi.  She switched from reading Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas in Sanskrit  to understanding  Ghalib’s Farsi poetry with equal ease. Ammi  fasted  in Ramazan, never missing a prayer,  but  then would also hop on the adjacent roof top with her friend Meera next door to view the moon through a sieve on Karwa Chauth, declaring that she too had fasted all day, for Papa’s long life.

Sharma Auntie who lived nearby did not have any children. I do not recall how it began, but from early school years till I passed out as a medical graduate, I would go to her house on every Diwali to make a rangoli in her angan.  I was referred by  her as her ‘susheel beti’ and with tons of prayers “Ishwar tumko hamesha sukhi rakhe”.  Sharma Auntie would also make sure that she visited us on Eid with an envelope of Eidi  for me.


On the day of my wedding, she came  early in the morning straight after her Pooja with a shagun( auspicious offering) for my happy married life. And while I was having my Bidai, there were my two mothers crying, Ammi and Sharma Auntie.  My in laws who had come from Pakistan were in awe to see we had so many nice Hindu friends.

Looking back and reading the news of current spate of  violence in India and ban on Muslims in Garba, it is hard to swallow how much have things gone awry. And why?

As kids, certainly not to radicalize us, but to familiarize us with our Muslim customs too, we were taken to Dada Abba’s house in Jama Masjid, or to Nani’s home in Jaipur and Agra to witness occaisions like Juma’t Ul Vida, Eid Prayers, Ashura processions and at times even the not so pleasant Qurbani on Baqr Eid.  They were as Papa called them, ‘fun  and learn’ trips.

With the current tussle on social media to ban ‘Shia processions’ in Pakistan I wondered if we ever as kids imagined Moharram as a Shia thing? My Nana Abba and Mamoojans in Jaipur, being prominent family in the community, took out their family Taziya, accompanying the Muharram Juloos all the way to the local Karbala. As the Ashura Juloos passed in front of Nana Abba’s house, there were volunteers waiting with bucketfuls of pink Sherbet to be distributed to them. We stood at the side watching one Taziya pass after another, eagerly waiting for the special ‘Bara Taziya’ and then at the very last the Gold-Silver Taziya donated  by Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh of Jaipur.

Around mid day would arrive Sattar Bhai,  with all his groceries required for the making of Khichra( Haleem)- a complete food with grains, pulses, meat and rich condiments in a deep and wide degh. Maleeda, made out of crumbs of sweet thick rotis was the accompanying dessert. My cousin informed they now make instant maleeda from Sheermal. Since it was Niaz meal, a great care was taken that there was no wastage and no left over food will be thrown away.

Similarly Ammi’s extended family in Agra, which was also a prominent Syed Sunni family of the city, not only had their own Taziya but also organized a sabeel: creating a miniature village exhibit quite similar to what we see here in malls in the West during Christmas season. I had faint memories, so I whatsapped a cousin, to find the details. This is how she responded immediately:Muharram1 And as obvious from this conversation, the tradition still continues in many Sunni families.

What we saw on occasional trips to Nani’s house in Jaipur,  Ammi had grown up observing Ashura since her birth. I never saw my Nani, Nana, Mamoos or Ammi wear black in Muharram, I never saw them crying in Muharram, but I found them somber and refusing to attend wedding invitations in the month of Muharram. Till date she commands me on every 10th Muharram, “Beta aaj music mut sun-na.”

Unfortunately interfaith fences are getting higher, as Ashura Juloos is perceived as ‘Shia’ in Pakistan and Garba has become a ‘Hindu’ event in India. It has become almost  impossible for moderate parents to let their children grow and absorb the goodness from each side, and discover on their own that there are no right or wrong faiths and no good or bad cultures.

The dilemma of not able to take sides on sentimental grounds, leads one to be judged a RAW agent when supporting India or a Taliban when associated with Pakistan. Equally narrow has become the sectarian outlook, where if you criticize Iranian Theocracy, you are hurled a Yazid slur and if you criticize Saudi extremism, you are a confirmed Islamophobe.

The more the religions become tools to play politics, the more these age old traditions will be presumed as exclusive shows of religious supremacy rather than inclusive cultural practices.

Things are progressing from bad to worse at a pace never seen before. Human beings  certainly don’t appear in a mood for tolerance, what to speak of inclusion. One is left to wonder whether God will salvage the inclusive traditions of Muharram Juloos or Garba Festivals from the bullies of Sectarianism or Nationalism?

In the Name of Faith

“Those who in the name of Faith embrace illusion,
kill and are killed.
Even the atheist gets God’s blessings-
Does not boast of his religion;

With reverence he lights the lamp of Reason
And pays his homage not to scriptures,
But to the good in man.

The bigot insults his own religion
When he slays a man of another faith.
Conduct he judges not in the light of Reason;
In the temple he raises the blood-stained banner
And worships the devil in the name of God.

All that is shameful and barbarous through the Ages,
Has found a shelter in their temples-
Those they turn into prisons;
O, I hear the trumpet call of Destruction!
Time comes with her great broom
Sweeping all refuse away.

That which should make man free,
They turn into fetters;
That which should unite,
They turn into sword;
That which should bring love
From the fountain of the Eternal,
They turn into prison

And with its waves they flood the world.
They try to cross the river
In a bark riddled with holes;
And yet, in their anguish, whom do they blame?

O Lord, breaking false religion,
Save the blind!
Break! O break
The alter that is drowned in blood.

Let your thunder strike
Into the prison of false religion,

And bring to this unhappy land
The light of Knowledge.”
Rabindranath Tagore


A Mama bird had many chirpy chicks. One was very silent and lost in his world always.

Mama bird: Why don’t you tweet like your other siblings?
Quiet chick: I cant just tweet in the air like these dumb chicks. I need a laptop to log in and #Tweet.

Origins of Mother’s Day:

On a serious note movement of Mothers Day began as a proclamation against the horrors of American Civil War in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe:

Mother’s Day Proclamation (1870)
by Julia Ward Howe

Arise then … women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace …
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God—
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interest of #PEACE.


What I saw all day on FB was that EVERYONE was touched by Sabeen’s generosity by some way or the other. And that was her legacy….to happily keep helping everyone who she could if the cause was good. And this last act of not estimating the danger was one of that act to help out when no one else was doing it.

I have a story too, of how she went out of the way to help me just a month ago. Just on one whatsapp request, when she was next day traveling to US for 2 weeks and CLF was beginning 3 days later. I asked her if there any way our art campaign can be part of CLF?
A few hours later I received on WhatsApp: “I talked to CLF, they will provide a booth, and with two of their own volunteers conduct the workshop on all days for “A Peaceful Pakistan, Pakistan For All” art campaign. I am traveling in the morning, but I have assigned two (names) in my office to carry on the work, they will print 1000 copies of the posters, and send them to CLF, and to stay connected to you.”
As a result…in 3 days of Children’s Literature Festival we got 3 huge murals and 500 paintings& models from school children, which rest in Karachi at CLF office for our art project- A Peaceful Pakistan, Pakistan For All.

This whole incident kept haunting me for the time I slept.

Point is: I want to Carry Forward Sabeen’s favor to me by going out of the way to offer my help to ONE person at least, PROACTIVELY each day, till next Eid (about 2 months)>

Helping out does not mean only to a certain ‘kind’ of needy people in Thar or Muzaffargarh or Baluchistan. It also means helping each other without bothering if this is my agenda or not, when it is a worthy cause is also what Sabeen’s legacy is.

I don’t want this fine quality of Sabeen be lost in the politics of serious issues she supported and actively advocated for. That struggle can continue in its own right.

This is my tribute to Sabeen Mahmud, with her own words about T2F.
(A hand painted silk scarf)




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