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Ammi's Pandaan


I have many pleasant memories of this pandaan from my childhood.
Papa used to eat pan and this pandaan was a functional part of our house.
However it had a different look then. It had a silver qalai(coat) on all the pieces of this beauty, as it sat on the outermost edge of the kitchen slab. Fresh crispy pans that Ammi bought regularly from her trips to Jama Masjid area, wrapped in wet cloth were placed on the top tray. A sarauta (beetlenut cutter), missing here also shared the space on the tray along with pans.
The containers under the tray all had their specific contents:
The two mini handias with the flat spoons were for Choona (white) and katha (brown) pastes. The tiny spoons were applicators for their contents on the pan. I even remember how Ammi bought dry solid katha and then cooked it with water to melt it, which finally was transferred in the little handiya.
The two big canisters housed- chhaliya(betelnut)- one as full rounded nuts and the other cut into small pieces by the sarauta. The third canister contained saunf(anise). The thin canister in the middle contained tobacco leaves.
Each time papa wanted a pan, either ammi or sometimes Papa himself followed the process of ‘making a pan’ applying the contents in the following order- choona, katha, chaliya and tambaku- and finally the whole pan was folded into a conical form called gilori.
Interestingly the only person who ate pan was papa. Ammi made them several times in a day, but I never saw her eating herself. We kids also never seemed interested in trying one.
When I was in high school, papa decided to give up tobacco. He just left it cold turkey. Pandaan still remained functional. But some years down the road he realized pan was unhealthy and he must cut down if not stop it altogether. So the pandaan was wrapped up and he chose to get a single pan in a day from the panwala.
This pandaan from 1930s that came to our household in Ammi’s jahez(dowry) in 1964 was carefully packed in a plastic bag and kept on the topmost shelf in the kitchen.
With tarnished and dull look, the pandaan rested on the shelf for about 25 years. Out of sight is out of mind and we all forgot about its existence.
About 15 years, as my siblings renovated the kitchen, this pandaan again came down on the kitchen slab. I happened to visit them during that period, and the sight of an ugly big ‘thing’ brought back the memories of its heydays.
Seeing my interest in it, I was chosen to be the next owner of this treasure by my siblings and Ammi saying, “You treasure such things.”

I brought it with me and it became a part of our desi decor in Makkah. As we moved from there it was dumped in a carton for almost a decade. Periodically I looked around for a trusted person who would repair it, refurbish it and can bring out it’s original copper instead of the silver enamel.

Today, on the last day of 2019, the person who agreed to follow my instructions, and did this job chose to come himself with the finished form and proudly present it to us, tell us how precious this piece is, and most importantly to inform us how much personal efforts he has put in to bring this pandaan to a new life.
The sight of this sparkling gem not just made my day, but also made me feel accomplished in life. 😀
I hope the next decade also brings such wonderful outcomes and happiness for us and for you all.
Happy 2020 folks !


Born, raised and educated in India, I learned how live secular values and co-exist with people of all faiths, race and cultures not just in India, but abroad. My political scientist parents told us that as we will grow up, whatever religious prejudices that exist will be gone.
Alas that was not meant to be !
Previous two decades( which began with anti-muslim riots in 1992 post Babri Masjid fall), we have seen all my parents’ prophesies and confidence in Indian secularism regress from confidence, to doubt, to fear and to a shattered dream today.
Citizenship Ammendment Act is a testimony that the gagging of Indian secularism is deliberate by design, not by default.
However, the incredible Indian student uprising against CAA, that began with 3 girls in Jamia Millia, and has now spread like wild fire across the globe is not a surprise to me. This is the only way you can respond when you feel your secular existence being strangled by fascists. I know Indians of all faiths who breathe secularism and will fight back till their last breath.

This is my India I was born, raised and educated in….so proud of my cousins, friends and all compatriots who are fighting oppression from the frontlines against CAA & NRA.


For the naive, who may need to educate themselves of the serious discriminatory intent that has been deliberately inserted in the Act and why are decent Indians outraging against it, can browse through these brilliant infographics for a quick understanding:

The poster below touched me the most. Perhaps this is a great lesson for people of all faiths, on how too shoo off the bigotry and divisive hatred of their own religious rightwingers.

I am a Hindu, not an a**h*le

The emotions are high and the willpower is unshakable.
Hear these powerful couplets by Rahat Indori which eloquently convey the indomitable resolve and anger of every secular Indian.

Agar khilaaf hain hone do jaan thodi hai,
Ye sab dhuwan hai koi aasman thodi hai,

(If they are against us, let them be, its not our life,
Its all a smokescreen, they are not open skies).

Lagegi aag to aayenge ghar kayi zaddd mein,
Yaha pe sirf hamara makaan thodi hai,

(If the fire errupts many houses will be engulfed,
There is not just our house in the vicinity here)

Main janta hoon ki dushman bhi kam nahi lekin,
Hamaari tarah hatheli pe jaan thodi hai,

(I know the enemies are no less adament,
But are they living on the edge like us? )

Hamaare munh se jo nikle wahi sadaqat hai,
Hamare munh mein tumhaari zubaan thodi hai,

{What comes out of our mouth is the truth,
Our mouths dont have your tongues(that lie)}

Jo aaj sahib-e-masnad hai kal nahi honge,
Kiraaye daar hain zaati makaan thodi hai,

(Those who are in power today, will not be tommorrow,
They are mere tenents here, they are not landlords)
.

Sabhi ka khoon hai shamil yahan ki mitti mein,
Kisi ke baap ka HINDOSTAN thori hai !!!

(Every Indian’s blood and sweat is mixed in this soil,
No one (community/faith) is the sole proprieter of Hindostan).

For Manila with Love


“Hello Ma’am your seat is 47E. Not good. Can I give you an aisle or a window seat at a better location?”
Me: “Oh that would be so kind of you for going extra mile even though I had booked online and this is the seat I could book last minute.”
Him: “Maam here is 17A. Window and front seat with extra leg space.”
Me: “You guys are amazing. I loved every day of my stay here.”

As I check out at immigration after a 45 day stay in Manila, this favour without even asking for one makes me overwhelmed with gratitude and would love to pay tribute to Phillipines and its lovely, hospitable people aloud on social media.

Right from the moment my husband and I landed at Ninoy Aquino International Airport at Manila till exit today, and from immigration officers to taxi drivers to house nannies to senior executives in MNCs to doctors to nurses to porters to managers to ordinary street vendors to jeepney drivers to tricycle drivers to kids playing on streets Phillipinos are an epitome of politeness, etiquettes and culture. Please, thank you, sorry, are spoken with as fluency as our desis hurl gaalis.

It’s not that their lives are easy or comfortable but they have the exemplary patience to stay calm and sane, without honking horns or getting jittery in hours of traffic jams.
Most Philipinos are extremely sincere, hardworking and professional in their work.
Another huge quality in mostly all Philipinos I met is humility. They are also wonderful at enjoying their life the most with whatever is available to them.

Talking to a CEO of a company in a party she asked me how i found Manila.
I replied, “It is very similar to Delhi in terms of rich poor divide, high density population and horrid traffic, but Manila and Philipinos are way ahead in cleanliness. I did not see any litter even in poor localities.”
The lady smiled with pride and replied, “Yes that is true. We feel shame in littering. But let me tell you it was not like this 35 years ago. Manila was dirty. I remember in my youth there was a huge campaign against littering all over from city govt to schools. It took us almost 20 years to get here.”

Another interesting fact I learned about Philipines is that it was a matriarchal society before it was colonized by Spain and patriarchy was imposed. However, it is still known as a country of strong women. Two of past Presidents have been women. Even though still under colonial patriarchal influence to a great extent, one third of businesses are owned and run by women.

Below are some of the scenes from the old district of Quiapo in Manila which houses the largest and oldest Quiapo Church and the largest mosque Golden Mosque and a huge vegetable market in between.

I am extremely thankful to my daughter Fatima Fasih and her husband Abdullah because of whom we could visit Manila and learn so much more about these wonderful people.
I know Phillipines is not a common choice for tourism, but if one gets a chance please do visit to see their level of exceptional humility, politeness and hospitality.
I know I am going to come again to explore less metropolitan areas especially Mindanao and other islands in coming years.
Thank you Metro Manila for a wonderful experience !



It was on evening of 10th of November 1989, in our home in New Delhi, India, Papa, Ammi and I were as usual watching the News on Doordarshan TV. The news of the day were the fall of Berlin Wall.
Here is a clip from that day:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmRPP2WXX0U

My father, a Professor of Political Science at University of Delhi, and ideologically a socialist was a lot skeptical about what was happening far away in Europe.
Since I was engaged to a Pakistani, and our wedding date was decided for 29 Jan 1990, I was naturally comparing it to India-Pakistan scenario.
I asked Papa, “Can such a thing happen between India and Pakistan?”
He replied, “India Pakistan is a lot simpler issue than the two Germanies. All that the two countries need is easier visas. With PPP in power, Pakistan will get better.”
He believed the left PPP will mend Pakistan. 😀
He was a proud Indian who had massive faith in Secular India, that was the vision of Gandhi and Nehru. Infact, he had presented me in my school days a book, “The Glimpses of World History” by Nehru. He wanted me to know and align with Nehru’s world view.
Papa was an optimist, and as kids we remember him tell us siblings, “The world in your times will be more open and risen above the differences of religion, caste and race.”
And like every Indian he lay the blame on Pakistan for all the troubles between the two neighbors.
However, that evening he kept glued to the TV, keeping his focus on the Berlin Wall. He wasn’t much interested in discussing India Pakistan as he was more worried about the fall of communism. He kept wondering how will it all unfold, and what would it look like in times to come with Capitalism winning over Socialism.
Ammi, also a lecturer in Political Science was in total agreement with him.

I got married in January 1990.
Days and months later, in less than a year, in October 1990, the two Germanies united.
Now I closely began to monitor the relations between India and Pakistan as it was part of my personal life now. I experienced a rollercoaster of emotions myself, as bilateral relations went through several crests and trough, with one step forward and 2 steps backward each time.

Thirty years on….
.
Today Germany celebrates 30th anniversary of Berlin Wall fall. Nothing that Papa feared happened. Fall of Berlin Wall is in fact celebrated as an end to cold war and a symbol of peace.

Today also brings the Babri Masjid Verdict by Indian Supreme Court, which grants Hindutva vigillantes who tore down the Babri Mosque, the right to build the temple at the very site, despite admitting in the judgement that there was no temple found beneath on investigation, and also that placing of idols in the mosque in 1949 and tearing down of the whole mosque in 1992 were illegal acts. Religious sentiments have prevailed over scientific evidence and justice.

Today also marks the opening of Kartarpur Corridor between India and Pakistan for the Sikh Pilgrims, for the very first time in 72 years of partition. This I must say has been the most optimistic step forward in the 30 years of my life as an Indian-Pakistani. The credit clearly goes to Pakistan’s Imran Khan.

This is the Kartarpur Corridor on the map which barely measures 6kms (2km in India and 4km in Pakistan) between the two most important Holy places of Sikh faith- Dera Nanak Baba and Dera Kartarpur Sahib. Pilgrims all these years had been taking the 220km route from Dera Baba Nanak to Amritsar to Lahore to Kartapur Sahib.
Its mindboggling that this 6km “corridor of peace” took 72 years and 3 generations to be built !

India Pakistan are now nuclear countries, still at loggerheads, with politics of religions getting dirtier, and making religious bigotry far more complicated even within India. It isn’t as easy a problem as Papa had predicted.
Socialist and secular by his soul, Papa was genuinely shocked and disheartened by the country wide antiMuslim riots that spread after Babri Masjid fall in 1992. This was not anything like his India.

Both my parents were professors of Political Science. But unfortunately both of them had no clue where would India, they were so confident and proud of, be standing 30 years later. And that Fall of Berlin wall, he so dreaded, would be celebrated as a symbol of peace on its 30th anniversary and ‘Pakistan’ he was so critical of would be the architect of “Kartarpur Corridor of Peace”.
We lost Papa in 1998 when he was barely 65.
I dread to even imagine what if he was alive in today’s India and knowing the unshakable belief he had of secular India, what would be his reaction watching it crumble down brick by brick like the Berlin Wall?
#BerlinWall30
#BabriMasjidVerdict
#KartarpurCorridor


When there is little you can do to change the ridiculous situation, the best tool you can resort to is satire. Satire and jokes through social media posts, memes, and even poetry are the ways Delhiites these days are coping with the frustrations and helplessness in the choked air.
Its hard to preserve the health of your lungs in the months from October to December when the Air Quality Index reaches ‘Hazardous’ levels of 500+, but good humor can at least preserve your sanity. Dark humor perhaps.

Below are some of the most eye catching memes I cam across on social media:





Being a cricekting nation, how could there not be a meme with Cricket:


Ofcourse there has to be memes relating to Bollywood films & its stars too!



The two memes below are my absolute favourites:

POETRY ON POLLUTION:

I came across a few pieces of poetry too on pollution.
Here is one by:

Firecracker

The leaves on the Ashoka tree outside my window droop.
There is no breeze to caress them.
There is no fresh dew.
They droop with dust, soot and smog.
And as they droop, so does my heart.
An eagle flies through a dusty haze and trees in the distance are foggy.
A tired insect flies by, its wings so heavy, as if the drag of the soot- laden air makes it fly through treacle.
A truck blares a horn far away.
The parakeets are absent. The pigeons have fled. The squirrels are not running about.
My eyes dart here and there, searching for my familiar morning sights.
It is quiet. Oh so quiet.
And no one is awake.
And the leaves on the Ashoka tree droop as they bear witness. Her leaves cry silent tears as the birds flee. The guava tree is laden but I don’t need to chase the parrots away.
As I hear another firecracker in the distance,
I push back my chair, and I sigh.

~ A poem by Jhilmil Breckenridge

Credits: I read this poem in a brilliant firsthand account by Mayank Soofi on Delhi’s pollution “Oh Ghalib, give us a verse on Delhi Smog”. Link to the whole article: https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/M6rO1l78bW8jkDMSxDPJtM/Oh-Ghalib-give-us-a-verse-for-the-smog.html

At the political front, the supporters of AAP’s Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal at state level and BJP’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the centre indulge in mudslinging, blaming each other for the root cause. Meanwhile, the kids take the most toll, not just in terms of health risk, but also by missing schools after the announced closure. 😦
Some samples of this political tit-for-tat can be seen in the slide-show below:

Then there are honorable Ministers like these who are walking talking memes themsleves.

Politics of religion is not ingnored either in this catastrope that spares no one, from any faith or class. Last year when the Delhi Govt announced a total ban on crackers on Diwali, a classmate of mine from Grade 8th taunted on the Montfort Class WhatsApp group:
“Yeah on Bakr Eid, killing animals is good for soil, but bursting crakcers on Diwali is bad for air pollution.”
Sigh ! I could only pity his self-destructive bigotry.

On a serious note, there can be no lighter side to an issue as dark and deadly as this. According to Air Pollution Index Hazardious ( Severe Grade 6) its health implications as described by WHO are:
Healthy people will experience reduced endurance in activities and may also show noticeably strong symptoms. Other illnesses may be triggered in healthy people. Elders and the sick should remain indoors and avoid exercise. Healthy individuals should avoid outdoor activities.”
This is a textbook example of a slow-killer.

Being born, raised and educated in Delhi, it hurts to realize the catastropic health consequences that over 20 million face in my homecity. I thought Delhi was unlivable even in the late 1980s as a student when every girl of my age group had to endure regular eveteasing( aka sexual harrassment) in horridly crowded DTC buses. (Thats another story of my Delhi that merits a separate session of storytelling.) Tbh today’s Delhi is a living hell.
With an ever widening rich-poor divide, Delhi’s pollution has proven to be a great equalizer. Now the rich, ruling and the powerful elite cannot escape in their safe havens from the poisonous air.
During my last visit to Delhi in November 2017, I experienced suffocation, breathlessness and buring eyes, accompanied by hours of traffic jam on the roads.
I took a deep breath of fresh air as I landed in Toronto 3 days later. My heart still ached for the loved ones, including my mother in her late 70s and three beautiful nephews and a neice, I had left behind waving at the Delhi airport, who like millions of other seniors and children in the NCR waited eagerly for a breeze that could blow away the smog until next Diwali season. That breeze did not blow until mid-December.

I do agree with the Manager of Haji Hotel ( ref in Mayank Soofi’s article) that we dearly miss Ghalib’s brilliant satire on the current state of Delhi.
In the heart of my hearts I also thank my God that free-spirited Mirza lived in Delhi in a different era. You all can guess why.

Just to leave a pleasant taste in my own mouth( and maybe yours), let me pen off this blog with this song:
Pollution by Rahul Ram:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ggVfvauo28


by R.V. Smith, Published on 28 October 2019 in Outlook

Diwali was considered, even by the orthodox Muslims, a festival of natural joy of God’s creation.

Diwali or Jashan-e-Chiraghan During Mughal Reign

Depiction of Diwali celebrations during Mughal

Tales of the Diwali of the Pharaohs, which lighted up the pyramids and the whole Nile area, and later its adoption by the Persians, is said to have inspired the Mughals to fall in love with the festival of lights. When they saw how it was observed in Delhi, they began to hail it as Jashan-e-Chiraghan.

It was made into an occasion of court celebration, despite the orthodox ulema frowning on it as an unislamic practice of devil worshippers in which the owl, the bird of omen was sacrificed to the goddess of wealth. Owls are still sacrificed, after being bought at high prices — sometimes as much as Rs 1 lakh each — by those who believe in the superstition. But for the Mughals Diwali was just a night of illuminated fantasy.

The Rang Mahal in the Red Fort was the venue of Diwali and Basant celebrations during the time of Mohammad Shah (1720-1748). Holi, however, was celebrated in the front lawns, while the Diwali diyas lent lustre to the mahal. Mughal connection with Diwali actually began in the reign of Akbar at the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri, where the palaces of Jodha Bai and Raja Birbal were also situated.

Jahangir and Shahjahan had milder Diwali celebrations and Aurangzeb was content with receiving gifts from his Rajput generals like Raja Jaswant Singh of Jodhpur and Jai Singh I of Jaipur. His grandson, Jahander Shah ruled for just about a year and celebrated his Diwali at Lahore with concubine Lal Kunwar.

All the oil in the city is said to have been bought by the dandy emperor to light up the night but, exaggeration apart, there were enough Telis there to cater to the needs of the hoi polloi-and some of them were more than mere oil sellers, for the saying in Lahore, as also in Delhi, was ‘Parhhein Farsi aur bechein tel’ (Study Persian and sell oil). Some of these men where intellectuals, who had to resort to such lowly jobs because of the difficult circumstances.

Diwali was considered, even by the orthodox Muslims, a festival of natural joy of God’s creation, though some of them had reservations about eating kheel which, incidentally, was mostly sold by Muslim bharbhujas or gram roasters. Besides Muhammad Shah Rangila (colourful), his predecessor Farrukhsuyar had ordered Diwali illuminations at the Delhi Gate he had built on the Agra-Delhi road.

The Sayyids of Barah, who had put him on the throne and some other puppets, including Muhammad Shah, belonged to 12 villages in what is now UP and where Diwali was celebrated with great enthusiasm by Hindu and Muslim peasants. So they were not surprised at the emperor’s unusual spectacle.

A special feature of the Mughal celebrations at Shabh-e-Barat and Diwali was the bursting of crackers close to the walls of the Red Fort under the supervision of the Mir Atish (Firework in-charge) during successive emperors.

According to historian R. Nath, in an age when there were no matches, the permanent source of fire was Surajkrant.

At noon of the day when the sun entered the 19th degree of Aries, and the heat was the maximum, the (royal) servants exposed the sun’s rays to a round piece of shining stone (Suranjkrant). A piece of cotton was then held near it, which caught fire from the heat of the stone. This celestial fire was preserved in a vessel called Agingir (fire-pot) and committed to the care of an officer.

The fire was used in the palace and renewed every year. Camphor candles called kufuri-shama were placed on 12 candlesticks of gold and silver to light up the palace as a daily ritual, Dr Nath asserts. This was obviously done on a grander scale at Diwali when the Akash Diya (the Light of the Sky) was lighted with greater pomp, placed atop a pole 40 yards high, supported by 18 ropes, and fed on several maunds of binaula (cotton-seed-oil) to light up the darbar.

Just imagine the huge lamp lighting up a Diwali night and casting its glow right up to Chandni Chowk where rich seths had their own lighting arrangements, with mustard oil diyas on every building. A giant-size statue of Tesu Raja and his wife Jhainji, symbolized by illuminated pots, was also taken out for immersion in the Yamuna.

Author: R.V. Smith, 28 October 2019 R.V. Smith is a historian of Delhi.

The above article was published and has been reblogged from here: https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/opinion-diwali-or-jashan-e-chiraghan-during-mughal-reign/341245

Here are a few pictures from the miniature art on Diwali in Medieval and Mughal Era.


Not just the Mughals, celebration of religious festivals by people of other faiths goes on even to this day. I was known in my neighborhood for being very artsy. Each year, I was invited by a neighbor aunty to make Rangoli at her home entrance for Diwali. I diligently created new and more complicated design each subsequent year and each time she thought I did an amazing job. I became a ‘daughter’ to this childless couple.

The first year I moved in my apartment in Canada, I could not resist making a rangoli in my balcony on Diwali. It was a chilly cold day in November, so I wore my jacket and boots as I sat on the balcony floor painting it. I could not find the dry color, so I ended up making a permanent one with acrylics. Here is an image that still exists after almost 8 years. Years later I decided to paint a peacock on the wall too with the same acrylic paints.

Rangoli in Canadian snow.

Religious and cultural festivals are fascinating. Although associated with some aspect of faith, they are an occaision to digress from daily monotonous rut to celebrate life with decorated homes, good food, good clothes and good company.
I love all festivals from diverse faiths and cultures for these reasons.


YOURSTORYTELLER

is a social enterprise that creates digital talking comics based on true stories and raises awareness on the triumphs and struggles of common individuals.
We will be bringing digital stories based on or adapted from true stories, highlighting an important social issue in each story.

Story #8: Good Touch Bad Touch

Do you think it is right to inform children about ‘Good Touch’ and ‘Bad Touch’ at a very early age? 

We teach our children to be safe from fire, from falls, from strangers, from other hazards, but we often fail to teach them how to be safe from body harm( from sexual abuse).
What is really worrying is that the statistics of sexual abuse in children are high- 1 in 3 in girls and 1 in 6 in boys before 18 years of age. Scary fact is that 90% of the perpetrators are known to the children.
Sexual abuse is a confusing concept for little kids. They feel awkward of certain actions of adults, but do not inform their parents/loved ones about them. Long term xhildhood sexual abuse has devastating consequences as they grow up as adults.
Why do parents avoid sharing with children the idea of body safety? Most think it is too early to tell them about sexual abuse without realizing that this is the age when they are the most vulnerable. Also, not teaching them skills to protect themsleves from abuse actually makes them more vulnerable for sexual abuse. It is never too early to empower children on how to confidently stay safe from sexual abuse.
This story is a small attempt to empower children in simple and easy way on body safety.

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