Open up your mind and your potential reaches infinity…


Down the Memory Lane

Once upon a time, when we lived in Srinagar, Kashmir, no sooner than I turned five, a formal Bismillah was held. I remember clearly Ammi stitched an orange satin Sharara from scratch and embellished it with gota for me.
An elaborate yet home based dawat(dinner), was held in which a few family friends were invited.
From the next day I was taken every day by Papa to a family friend, Hashmi Uncle’s house with a beginners Qaeda and the dupatta (from the sharara set) folded in a bag together. Hashmi Uncle’s aunt who was called Phuphijan gave sabaq(lessons) to me and Rana.

Rana was from the same household as Phupijan. The idea of going to their house to read Qaeda was more fun than learning. I distinctly remember Phupijan never beat us or shout at us, though she was strict at times. She did not let us girls giggle while reading our lessons.
In about an year, or so I finished the Qaeda, and there was a celebration(graduation) for it. Phupijan invited my parents to their home, prepared some dessert, and presented us girls with batwas (pouches) filled with candied saunf, nuts and misri (sugar crystals). The batwa was stitched by Phupijan herself during the months we were reading Qaeda with her. Incidentally I also remember thinking that she gave the more decorated batwa to me than to Rana. I have yet to see a more intricately stitched batwa which had strings and even a partition within the space.
I graduated to the 30th Sipara as the stepping stone for Quran.
In a few months Hashmi Family left Srinagar. So I was passed on to Mubarak Auntie. After a while they left the place too and we also came to Delhi.

In Delhi too, Ammi arranged an Ustani Saheba who taught Quran to girls in different homes as a means of livelihood. Ammi asked her permission if she would teach my 10 year old twin brothers too. She kindly obliged. In some years, we completed the 30 Siparas.
Again an elaborate Ameen was held at home. Close family and friends were called. Ustani Saheba was also invited and she was given a special jora(dress) and cash.
She brought for me a book of prayers as a present and instructed, “Keep practicing your fluency (qirat).”
Ammi kept in touch with Ustani Saheba as she visited us a few times after that.

A decade later Ustani Sahiba was invited in my wedding too. She came with a Quran contained in a decorated Juzdaan (special bag) which she had hand-stitched and decorated with gotta. She said she began working on it as soon as she heard I was getting married. Again the instructions from the gentle lady were, “Keep reading this to maintain your fluency.”

(I had almost forgotten the whole experience until a day ago it was reminded by a discussion on Qaris teaching Quran these days. Although there is much stress about religious preaching these days, but the personal & cultural touch to it has gone missing).
P.S. Below are the examples of Batwa and Juzdan quite close to that I was given.

Batwa: a pouch to keep candy, nuts etc.Batwa2

Juzdan: A decorated cloth case for keeping QuranJuzdan

 


Sufism talks of losing the ‘self’ to attain the love of God. Here in an unusual Hindi sufi poetry the poet Achal Ram, a Kabir bhakt,  describes in simple yet delightful verses how by losing one’s self, he sees the reflection of God within himself and then falls in love with that self.
Mukhtiyar Ali, a renowned Kabir singer adds ecstasy to the soulful  words through his rendition. Translation in the subtitles by Kabir Project does remarkable justice to the original verses.

Dekha apne aap ko, mera dil deewana ho gaya,
Na chhero yaron mujhe, main khud mastana ho gaya.
I saw my own self and fell in love with it,
Don’t mess with me friends, I am in ecstasy of self.

Lakhon suraj, chandrama, qurban per hain mere husn per,
Adbudh chhavi ko dekh ke, kehne se main sharma gaya.
Countless suns and moons bow down to my beauty
Seeing my spectacular silhoutte, I am speechless and blush.

Ab khudi se baaher hain, ishq kafni pehen ker,
Sab rang chola rangaa, deedar apna ho gaya.
I am free of self-obsession after being draped in love shroud,
Sporting a dress dyed in all colors, I have come face to face with myself.

Ab deekhta koi nahin, duniya me hi merey siwa,
Doori ka parda hata, saara bharam pighla gaya.
Now I behold no one in the whole world but my own self
The veil of separation is lifted, all delusions have vanished away.

Achal Ram ab khud ba khud, hai mehboob mujh se na-juda
Nij noor mein bharpoor ho, apne mein aap samaa gaya.
Achal Ram now by itself, the beloved and I are inseparable
Suffused with self radiance, I have merged within myself.


“A woman cannot use contraception without the husband’s permission.”

I wish men ever got pregnant and had to raise children the way mothers do to realize what a travesty of injustice this clause by CII, Pakistan is. It should be the other way round….men must have the permission from women for not using contraception.

I am glad that contraception is not an issue here like in Catholicism, but if Allah (SWT) allows it, I am sure Almighty has granted this right to  women knowing they are the ones who bear the children in their wombs and raise them.  Making husbands be the police over contraception is injustice and no where in any Quranic/Hadith texts can this be found. This is simply a patriarchal attempt by  opportunistic men to control women.

Having worked in a conservative community in Makkah, Saudi Arabia in the field of ObGyn/Family Medicine for 14 years, I know exactly what this means.

I narrate one incident which I clearly remember the details of.

A 40/41 year old woman with 5 children, eldest in his late teens came to me asking for contraception. After discussion on pros & cons, she decided to choose a pill that was appropriate for her age.
Half an hour later, her husband, in early 60s banged the clinic door open and showed me the medication in his hand asking: “What is this?”
I told him “This is a medication for women.”
Him: “Is this contraceptive?”
Me: “Yes.”
He threw it in my dustbin and warned me that if I prescribed a contraceptive again, he will complain against me.
He closed my door back and I was later told that he dragged his wife to the car pulling her by her head scarf.

An year and a half later, the woman had a new baby.

Three years after the child was born this man suddenly died of brain hemorrhage at 67.
The lady was left with 6 children, 2 of them not even in their teens. And she was the second of the three wives he had left behind.
I saw her all the years, until I left the job, and I know in how much misery this woman in her mid to late forties was going through raising children as a widow on 1500 Saudi Riyals stipend as a widow.
(BTW this is one of several stories I personally encountered).

It is easy for men to dictate not to use contraception but it is extremely hard for women to raise children when men take decisions but do not follow through with responsibilities arising out of it.

Decision to bear children and their number must ideally be a joint responsibility. The woman must have a voice in that decision making instead of being forced upon her.

 


Weddings are not complete without the wedding songs in any community.
“Kaahe ko byahi bides” in Braj dialect by Amir Khusrau  is an extremely popular wedding song in the northern Indian subcontinent. There is hardly any wedding where this song is not sung by the women. Since these verses are passed on from one generation to another by word of mouth, every singer picks and chooses different stanzas and sometimes with variance in vocabulary in the verses. I have tried to collect the different verses, and there may still be other lesser known verses too. Shall appreciate if you will share if you have any different ones in the comment box.

It is a plea from a daughter to her father explaining how she is one of the dispensable objects from their household. Through metaphors, though seemingly simple, she makes a gut wrenching comparisons with herself.  Every stanza of the song merits a deep appreciation of that comparison in a different way.

 

Khwaja ji,
Sun li hamre jiyara ki peerh,

Ankhiyaan se bahe hai neer.

Khwaja  listen to the pain in my heart,
While from my eyes flow out tears. 

Kāhe  ko  byāhe  bides?  
Arre  lakhiyā`  bābul  more?  
Kāhe ko byāhe bides?  

Why did you marry me off to a alien land? 
O’my wealthy  father,
why did you part me from you?  

Hum to bābul torey, bele kī kaliyā`.  
Arre  ghar-ghar  mānge  hai`  jāye.
Lakhiyā`  bābul  more
Kaahe ko byahe bides. 

 
We are just flower-buds from your garden,
Every household  asks for us.
O’my wealthy father,
Why did you part me from you?

Hum to bābul tore angan kī chiṛaiyā.
Arre chuge, piye, urr jāye.
Lakhiyā`  bābul  more
Kaahe ko byahe bides.

We are just birds from your courtyard
We peck on food, drink and then fly away
O’my wealthy father
Why did you part me from you?  

Hum to bābul tore, khūte kī gayīyā`. 
Arre jid haanko hakjaaye.  
Areh  lakhiyā`  bābul  more
Kaahe ko byahi bides.

We are just your tethered cows,
we have to go wherever you drive (send) us.
O’ my wealthy father
Why did you part me from you? .

Tākh bhārī me`ne guṛiye` jo chhoṛī.
Arre  to chhoṛā  saheliyo`  kā sāth.  
Lakhiyā`  bābul  more
Kaahe ko byahe bides. 

I’ve left at home alcoves full of dolls,
and parted from my childhood friends too. 
O’ my wealthy father
Why did you part me from you? 

Mehala`  tale  se  dolā  jo  nikalā.
Are  bīran  ne khaayi  pachhād.  
Lakhiyā`  bābul  more
Kaahe ko byahe bides  

When my palanquin passed beneath the mansion, 
My brother fainted and fell. 
O’my wealthy father,
why did you part me from you? 

Doley ka parda utha ker jo dekha
Na babul na babul ka des reyy
Lakhi babul morey
Kaahe ko byaahe bides?

When I lifted the veil of the palanquin
There was neither father, nor fatherland,
O’my wealthy father
Why do you part me from you?

Bhaiyā ko diyo bābul mehala do mehale.
Areh  ham  ko  diyo  pardesh  re.  
Lakhiyā`  bābul  more
Kaahe ko byahe bides

You gave, two-storied houses to my brother
And to me, you gave a foreign land.  
O’my wealthy father,
why did you part me from you? 

Ghar se tou kayila hum ke vida,
Arre Jiyara se na kariyo judaa,
Lakhiyā`  bābul  more
Kaahe ko byahe bides

You are sending me away from home,
Separate me not from your heart,
O’my wealthy father,
why did you part me from you? 

Khusrau kehat hai`, Aiy merī lāado.  
Arre  dhan  dhan  bhāg  suhāg  re.  
Lakhiyā`  bābul  more
Kaahe ko byahe bides. 

Khusrau says, O my darling daughter –
May your marriage be blessed with everything.  
O my wealthy father,
why did you part me from you?

 

There are multiple classical and folk versions sung by countless singers. Few of my favorites are here:

 

 

A different and very interesting version I found is this sung by Habib Painter >

Waise tou dastoor hai ye purana,
Pii ki nagariya hai dulhan ko jaana
Kehtey  hain Nabi aur Khusrau ka kehna
Doley ka parda utha ker jo dekha
Aya paraya des reyy, ache babul more
Kaahe ko byaahi bides, ache babul more…

 


 

کافر عشقم، مسلمانی مرا در کار نیست
ہر رگ من تار گشتہ، حاجت زُنار نیست
از سر بالین من برخیز ای نادان طبیب
دردمند عشق را دارو بہ جز دیدار نیست
ناخدا بر کشتی ما گر نباشد، گو مباش
ما خدا داریم ما را ناخدا در کار نیست
خلق می‌گوید کہ خسرو بت‌پرستی می‌کند
آری! آری! می‌کنم! با خلق ما را کار نیست

Kafir-e-ishqam musalmani mara darkaar neest
Har rag-e mun taar gashta hajat-e zunnaar neest;
Az sar-e baaleen-e mun bar khez ay naadaan tabeeb
Dard mand-e ishq ra daroo bajuz deedaar neest;
Nakhuda dar kashti-e maagar nabashad go mubaash
Makhuda daareem mara nakhuda darkaar neest;
Khalq mi goyad ki Khusrau but parasti mi kunad
Aarey aarey mi kunam ba khalq mara kaar neest.

Translation:

I am an infidel of love: the creed of Muslims I do not need;
Every vein of mine has become taunt like a wire,
the (Christian/Magian) girdle I do not need.
Leave my bedside, you ignorant physician!
The only cure for the patient of love is the sight of his beloved –
other than this, no medicine does he need.
If there be no pilot in our boat, let there be none:
We have God in our midst: the sea we do not need.
The people of the world say that Khusrau worships idols.
So he does, so he does; the world he does not need.

The singer: Janki Bai(1880-1934) was a celebrity singer of her times in Allahabad. She has 150 song records to her credit in the early years of gramophone. More about her here > http://scroll.in/article/729320/why-singer-jankibai-of-allahabad-was-always-associated-with-the-number-56

Another of her recording here:

 

 

 


The word Nowruz meaning New Day, is the most anticipated and favorite celebration for Persians. It occurs exactly on the Spring Equinox. This occasion has been renowned in one form or another by all the major cultures of ancient Mesopotamia. Sumerians, 3000 BC, Babylonians, the ancient kingdom of Elam in Southern Persia and Akaddians in the second millennium BC, all celebrated this festival. What we celebrate today as Norooz (Also spelled Now Ruz, Norooz or Norouz) has been around for at least 3000 years and is deeply rooted in the rituals and traditions of the Zoroastrians of the Sassanian period.

It’s no secret that Persians love any excuse to celebrate. But of all the many reasons to celebrate, Norouz, The Persian New Year, is by far the most important and dear in the hearts of Iranians around the globe. Literally translating to “A New Day,” Norouz marks the first day of Spring (March 21st) and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar.

Originally a Zoroastrian holiday, Norouz has been celebrated for at least 3,000 years. The most significant aspect of Norouz is the fact that it is a non-religious and non-ethnic celebration. Norouz brings together several hundred million diverse peoples spanning from Iran to northwest China, India and Central Asian republics,Turkey and Eastern Europe, Iraq and westward to Egypt; all celebrating this joyous holiday which represents new Beginnings, and the start of Spring.

Sofreh Haft Seen

In harmony with the rebirth of nature, the Persian new year celebration starts on the first day of Spring, illustrated by a beautiful spread Haft Seen:

haft seen1

 

A symbolic illustration of Norouz is the “Haft Seen” (Persian translation of “Seven S”), a ceremonial table spread, including at least seven items whose names start with the letter “S” in the Persian alphabet; hence the name “Haft Seen” or “Seven S”. The spread itself is usually a beautifully crafted and decorated fabric such as “Termeh.”

At the specific time of Vernal Equinox (when the sun is observed to be directly over the equator) which varies every year, the family gathers around Haft Seen holding hands. At the moment of transition into the New Year or “Sal Tahvil,” family members embrace each other and eat a sweet…for a sweet year! This is followed by exchanges of “Aydi” (cash gifts exchanged) and having the traditional new year dish “Sabzi-polo and Mahi” (herbed rice and white fish).

The Most Common Haft Seen Items: 

Sib (Apple): Red apples representing health and natural beauty.

Sabzeh (Sprouts): Wheat, barley or lentils sprouts growing in a dish,
symbolizing the fertility of the land in the Spring and the rebirth of nature.

Samanu: Common wheat sprouts are transformed and given new life as
this sweet and creamy pudding, representing the reward of patience.

Sir (Garlic): Displayed in beautifully decorated dishes, garlic represents
good health, and is believed to chase away evil spirits.

Sumac: A popular Persian spice used as a symbol to wish for some zest
in life in the new year.

Senjed (Oleaster): The Senjed or wild olives represent love and compassion.

Sombol (Hyacinth): Hyacinth is placed in the Haft Seen to signify the beauty
and fragrance of Spring, and the rebirth of nature.

Sekkeh (coin): Coins representing wealth and hopes for prosperity.

Serkeh (vinegar): The vinegar also placed in a beautiful bowl or decorative
container is a symbol for maturity, and the wisdom and patience that comes
with age.SONY DSC

Other items not starting with letter “S”, but included because of their symbolic
meaning and cultural significance include:

Mirror: The mirror is usually set at the top center of the Haft Seen,
representing self-reflection.

Candles: Lit candles are more commonly set on each side of the mirror
and represent enlightenment and happiness.

Gold Fish: One of the most fun traditions of Norouz is buying the gold
fish for Haft Seen. The gold fish are used to represent joy and movement.

Holy or Poetry Book: Religious families will often place their holy book
in the center of the Haft Seen. Others opt for famous poetry books such
as Divan of Hafiz or Shahnameh.

Eggs: Usually, one for each member of the family, artfully decorated eggs
are used to represent the human race, as well as, fertility.

Sweets: Traditional Persian sweets are another popular item for the Haft Seen.
The pastries are a symbol for a sweet life and are meant to be eaten
during the celebration.

Seville orange: Floating in a bowl of water, it represents the earth
floating in space.

(Credits: The above text and pictures are crossposted  from here: http://www.partybravo.com/Norooz-Persian-New-Year-Haft-Seen).

Other traditions of Nowruz:

Hajji Firouz:

Haji Firouz (Persian: حاجی فیروز / هاجی فیروز – Hāji Firuz‎‎) or Khwaja Piruz (Persian: خواجه پیروز – Xwāje Piruz‎‎),[1] also spelled Hajji Firouz, is a fictional character in Iranian folklore who appears in the streets by the beginning of Nowruz. His face is covered in soot, and he is clad in bright red clothes and a felt hat. He dances through the streets while singing and playing a tambourine, and is the companion of Amu Nowruz(“Uncle Nowruz”).
(Source & further details: here >> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hajji_Firuz).

Lyrics:
Beškan Beškan
Beškan beškan e, beškan! (It’s a snap-snap, snap!)
Man nemi-škanam, beškan! (I won’t snap, snap!)
Injā beškanam, yār gele dāre (If I snap here, this one will complain)
Unjā beškanam, yār gele dāre (If I snap there, that one will complain)
In siāh e bičāre če qad howsele dāre! (How patient this poor man is!)

Bonfire:

People traditionally jump over bonfires, shouting “Zardie man az to, sorkhie to as man,” which means “May my pallor be yours and your red glow be mine.”
The flames symbolically take away the unpleasant things from the last year.

Nowruz fire.jpg

Following is my favorite song  Nasim-e-Farvardin( The breeze of Spring) by Marzieh , an ode to arrival of  Spring:


As my fascination and exploration of war art continues, and I discover one powerful artwork after the other, this piece is one of the earliest and is considered as one of the most impactful of art pieces of its time.

1871_Vereshchagin_Apotheose_des_Krieges_anagoria

The Apotheosis of War (above) was painted by Vasily Vereshchagin in 1871 as an aftermath of a war. The painting in oil on canvas depicts death, destruction and devastation symbolized by skulls, vultures, barren trees and deserted town in the background. The painter  inscribed on the frame:  ‘Dedicated to all great conquerors, past, present and those yet to come.’

A closer look:

Vereshchagin_apotheosis_big

Vasily Vershchegin was one of the  most celebrated war painter of his times in Europe and Russia. In an exhibition in Berlin in 1881, a German Filed Marshal visited his exhibition. As Vasily brought him to this painting, the Field Marshal did not like how war was depicted in the painting. He issued orders to his soldiers to not see the exhibition. Austrians and his fellow countrymen Russians were also deeply offended. He was banned to exhibit and even to publish pictures of his art in books.  In anger and frustration he burnt down three of his paintings.

Vasily wrote on war: “Does war have two sides – one that is pleasant and attractive and the other that is ugly and repulsive? No, there is only one war, that  attempts to force the enemy to kill, injure, or take as many people prisoner as possible, while the stronger adversary beats the weaker until the weaker pleads for mercy.”  

Horrors of war obsessed him.  “I loved the sun all my life, and wanted to paint sunshine. When I happened to see warfare and say what I thought about it, I rejoiced that I would be able to devote myself to the sun once again. But the fury of war continued to pursue me,”

He travelled far and wide, and painted avidly on nature, beauty, humanity, miseries and oppression. In 1884 he travelled to India and painted ‘The Mausoleum of Taj Mahal’.
The painting not only reflects Taj’s beauty but also succeeds to capture the tranquility the monument exudes when seen in real life.

VasilyVereshchagin Taj Mahal 1876

What a therapeutic closing of this blog !