Open up your mind and your potential reaches infinity…

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)



may day

Mehnat se yeh maana chuur hain hum
Aaraam se koson door hain hum
Par larne par majboor hain hum
Mazdoor hain hum mazdoor hain hum.

Go aafaat-o-gham ke maare hain
Hum khaak nahin taarey hain
Iss jag ke rrajdulaare hain
Mazdoor hain hum mazdoor hain hum.

Ban-ne ki tamanna rakhtey hain
Mitne-ne ka kaleja rakhtey hain
Sarkash hain sar ooncha rakhtey hain
Mazdoor hain hum mazdoor hain hum.

Go jaan pe laakhon baar banee
Ker guzrey jo jee mein thi thaani
Hum dil ke khare baaton ke dhani
Mazdoor hain hum mazdoor hain hum.

Hum jism mein taaqat rakhtey hain
Seenon mein harraarat rakhtey hain
Hum azm-e-baghaavat rakhtey hain
Mazdoor hain hum mazdoor hain hum.

Jiss roz baghaawat ker dengey
Duniya mein qayaamat ker dengey
Khwaabon ko haqeeqat ker dengey
Mazdoor hain hum mazdoor hain hum.

by Asrar Ul Haq Majaaz


Tick tock tick tock tick tock,
Goes time, mercilessly,
Dragging us along in chains,
To keep up, to catch up, to hurry up,
Be enslaved? I refuse, I rebel.
Neither a prisoner of the past,
Nor a conqueror of the future,
Not even a hostage of the present,
Slow, fast, run, stand,  whatever,
On no one else’s pace, only my own.
And this  quest landed me
On the two pieces of art below,
Ending the search of my Nirvana.


Always be drunk.
That’s it!
The great imperative!
In order not to feel
Time’s horrid fardel
bruise your shoulders,
grinding you into the earth,
Get drunk and stay that way.
On what?
On wine, poetry, virtue, whatever.
But get drunk.
And if you sometimes happen to wake up
on the porches of a palace,
in the green grass of a ditch,
in the dismal loneliness of your own room,
your drunkenness gone or disappearing,
ask the wind,
the wave,
the star,
the bird,
the clock,
ask everything that flees,
everything that groans
or rolls
or sings,
everything that speaks,
ask what time it is;
and the wind,
the wave,
the star,
the bird,
the clock
will answer you:
“Time to get drunk!
Don’t be martyred slaves of Time,
Get drunk!
Stay drunk!
On wine, virtue, poetry, whatever!”
~ Charles Baudelaire.

DREAM: Painting by De La Cruz: “.…where paint explodes out of the soul into the canvas.”


Moral: Be drunk, then do what you dream.

Fasih ilmana 001

On Eid soon after the wedding: finding harmony

We argued, we fought, like any other couple. But we made it, thanks to our conscious decision to not let cross-border politics derail our relationship

By Ilmana Fasih

Jaaney kya tuu ne kahi, jaane kya main ney suni, baat kuchh ban hii gayee…”
(Wonder what you said, wonder what I heard, but we still made it.)

I am sure I am not the only South Asian who finds a Bollywood song that feels like it was written for them.

This month, on 29 January 2015, it will be 25 years since we got married. Time seems to have passed in a blink. Not that it has all been a smooth walk through a garden of roses. But, occasionally traversing thorny paths, we have managed to emerge more resilient.

Being politically aware individuals, and as a Pakistani and an Indian respectively, both my husband and I knew it would be hard to prevent cross-border politics from affecting us. However, early on, after many thoughtful discussions, we vowed not to make our home a battlefield of political taunts. At the same time we used our political concerns to rise above emotional rhetoric and develop an objective outlook. When pessimists dismissed our aspirations of peace we would come up with statements like: “When fractured bones can heal why can’t India Pakistan relations?”

We learnt to be sensitive enough to respect the idiosyncrasies of our extended families on either side, and ignore those who used our presence as a cue to trigger India-Pakistan debates or even, I dare say, hate.

To my good fortune, my husband was strong enough to not take to heart the mocking of everything Pakistani by some of my Indian relatives when he visited India. I had my share of outbursts with his family in Pakistan only to mature with time and learn that what really mattered was our relationship and not what rest of the world said.

Looking back I can say we worked hard, really hard, to maintain our sanity. At times we went out of our way to shield each other from the hyper-patriots of our respective sides. And then consoled each other with, “Pity their ignorance; they don’t know what they are missing.”

We argued, we fought, like any other couple, but never over border politics. We needed to raise children who were confident and not confused about their identities and who could stand up as beacons of harmony, not hate. We are honoured that our two children grew up loving both countries, both peoples, and cherishing the beauty of their differences.

India-Pakistan moments came to our home only as jokes.

My son would ask his father, “Why did you have to marry an Indian who cooks bhindi?”

Pat would come the response, “Because she wore a bindi.”

As little children, they made valiant warriors and proud ambassadors for both sides. What more could a mother want?

My Indian family still remembers how a cousin joked with our five-year old Fatima during a picnic in Delhi: “Tumhara Pakistan ganda hai.” (Your Pakistan is dirty).

She responded innocently: “But the roads are dirty in India too. And like this Qutub Minar, Pakistan has a tall Minar-e-Pakistan. It is in Lahore. Mummy says Lahore is like Delhi.”

And how my son came to my rescue when in Pakistan, an extended family member in a gathering remarked, “The Ghauri-II missile has a range to reach up to New Delhi.”

My wide-eyed six-year old Ismail came running to me and whispered in my ear, “Ammi, no one can bomb Delhi. Don’t worry, Nani and Nana will be safe.”

All my anxiety and anger dissipated as he gave me a tight bear hug, insisting, “Hold me tight too Ammi.”

When they were little, the children were also teased in school that their Indian mother was a ‘traitor’. There were tearful moments for them, but there were far more occasions to rejoice and be able to enjoy the best of both places.

As adult now, my daughter takes pride in introducing herself as the “daughter of an Indian mother and a Pakistani father, who learnt very early that there are loved ones and not enemies on the other side.”

My son enjoys supporting both cricket teams, and even switching loyalties depending on which team is performing better.

Visa for us have not been a challenge except for occasionally. However, it is always painful to see how other divided families struggle for an almost impossible-to-obtain visa.

What hurts is the hatred spewed on electronic or social media that is so unnecessary, when what the region needs is positive energy.

It hurts that the naive on both sides fall easy prey to rhetoric, not realising that conflicts feed only a few hawks both sides. Why don’t they understand that with peace, everyone wins and with conflict we all lose.

It hurts that vested interests refuse to resolve age-old issues or move on to strive for a bright future for the billion strong youth of the region.

It hurts that our meager resources are spent on nuclear arsenal and war mongering, rather than being channeled to alleviate hunger, disease and poverty.

I often quote the poet Kunwer Mahinder Singh Bedi’s eloquently asked question to hawks on both sides:

Poochhna hai ab mujhe ye Hind-o-Pakistan se,
Peit bhookon ka bhoroge kya jang ke samaan se.
(I wish to ask both India and Pakistan,
Will you fill the hungry stomachs with weapons?)

It hurts that we exchange dead soldiers and arrested fishermen instead of exchanging of knowledge, expertise and resources from each side.

It even hurts that the people who are so close culturally and geographically are kept miles apart by almost impossible visa policies.

More than everything else what hurts is the fools we make of ourselves in front of rest of the world by our reputation as nations with multiple common enemies including poverty and violence against women, yet we are fighting each other.

Outsiders often ask, “Don’t you share a common history?
I retort as always, “Yes, we have the same DNA too.”
“Do you think peace is possible between your countries?”
“Do we have any other choice, but to peace? We have fought three wars and been involved in several conflicts. It’s time we give peace a chance for regional cooperation and coexist as peaceful neighbors.”

To those who understand Urdu, I simply quote Jagannath Azad’s couplet:

Siyasat ne jo khenchi hain hadein qayam rahein beshak,
Dilon ke hadd-e-faasil ko mitaa dene ka waqt aaya.
(Let the lines that are drawn by politics stay,
But it is time for hearts to mend the gap).

The writer is an Indian gynecologist married to a Pakistani. She dreams of a world without wars.She dreams of a world without wars.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

P.S. My sincere thanks to Aman ki Asha, of the Jang Group, The News for publishing my story. Link to the article in The News Aman Ki Asha is here >>


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