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Archive for April, 2012

Pangs of an Indian Pakistani

On departure at Indira Gandhi Airport, New Delhi her father, a man with steel nerves, exclaimed with a mask face, in a matter of fact manner,
“Now that you are going across, own the place, own the people, and own the problems the way you have owned the man from there.”

Without a trace of extra humidity in his eyes, he turned back towards the exit, without waiting for her to cross the immigration line for the last time as an Indian. The daughter, with a heavy heart, stopped to watch till the silhouette of her father, her mentor, blurred into the fog of the pre dawn.

Half a day later, the same day, in the same time zone (with a mere difference in half an hour), the same season, she stepped onto a ‘different’  land she was advised to “own”.

The faces, the attires, the language, the snail-pace of the custom officials was quite similar, with only minor difference in salutation of “Namasteji “ there on departure, while “Assalam Aleikum” here at arrival at Jinnah Terminal, Karachi.

But for her the smell at the airport was distinctly different, so was the taste of water she drank from the cooler, and as she moved out, the afternoon breeze that slapped her for the first time was quite hot and humid, unlike the cool breeze she had felt early morning in Delhi. The feeling within was weird, impossible to explain. It was neither regret nor its antonym.

The details of experience that each of the five senses from smell to touch went through, are still afresh as of today.

Today, it is a bit over 22 years from that day of February 19, 1990. A couple of years from now, she would have lived almost as many years as a Pakistani, as she lived as an Indian. A lot has happened in these 22 years. A lot means a lot.

From a dogged patriotic Indian, who cried hysterically on even a hint of anti Indian sentiments from the countless paroxismally patriotic Pakistanis, she gradually graduated into someone who now feels as hurt or happy for Pakistan as for India.

It did not happen overnight.

“You will find a plethora of stupid reasons to with fight each other, and to vent outside anger at home, but for heaven’s sake, never make India-Pakistan as one of those silly reasons. This will neither make India nor Pakistan any Heaven, but will certainly make your home a Hell.”

This singular advice from a cousin uncle in Karachi, in the same situation, did not mean much to her, when it was said. However the golden words found numerous occasions to rebroadcast themselves in her head, pleading reason to maintain sanity.

More than anything else, what must have really transformed her was perhaps the dignity and poise with which her Pakistani spouse literally faced and braved the reciprocal mocking and even bullying from patriotic Indians, relatives or otherwise. If she got perturbed and came to his rescue, he would set her aside with a whisper: “Oral diarrhoea, beyond their control.”

For those who wished to discuss India Pakistan with a level of objectivity, and understanding, they both reversed their roles. They were, and in fact still are, the unsaid ambassadors of the other side in their countries of birth, attempting to bust the myths, and distortions piled up over decades.

However, they still find a sizable ‘visionaries’ on both sides, which never seem to budge from unseen prejudices. Their dogged convictions tend to take comical discourse…

“I know it. I am telling you….”
“How can you be so sure? You haven’t been there. I have lived there.”
“No, but I am sure. I know.”

One wonders if she has still learnt to laugh it off, like her husband. But certainly the pangs of the pain are a lot less.

Not only did they not fight at home on this, they even gave their children the space to choose their preferences through experience. Unlike a typical mother, who would glorify her mother’s side, while demonise her in laws place; it was a conscious effort on her part not to confuse the identity of her kids. It was perhaps as a concerned mother, that she wanted her children to love their homeland as much as she loved hers as a kid.

Seeing is believing, and her two grownups now take pride to announce “We love India, but we own Pakistan” not just in words, but in their actions too.(The wrath the two of them have faced since childhood, because of their parents identities,  till date, would be another saga, best narrated by themselves).

However, not being a super human, what she has really not learnt to laugh off is the message of ‘not’ belonging to Pakistan or to India, which she receives, off and on, bluntly or subtly.

Cricket matches, which boil passions on each side, almost always place her on a pedestal where her allegiance is questioned, at every expression verbal or facial, both home and abroad.

Having strong opinions on political and social issues and a compulsion to vocalize critical views has its own price to pay, if you happen to be a ‘fortunate’ Indian Pakistani. Objectivity is not your prerogative, and to presume “You’re being biased”,  is everyone else’s.  They are always right, and you are always wrong.

“We thought you became a Pakistani”, “Didn’t you give up your nationality?”, “Does it not happens in your India?” “Worry about your Pakistan.” are just few of the judgements that are hurled at her, time and again.

Is it that being a Pakistani by birth, better than being a Pakistani by choice?

Is it that the passport being taken away makes her twenty four years of being born, grown up and groomed as Indian meaningless? Does the soul to be an Indian, also needs a passport?

Or is it that possession of passport of one side bars one to belong to the other side by virtue of birth.

Or is it  being both an Indian Pakistani at the same time, an anathema, worthy of being distrusted?

She would be lying, if she said she accepted these meaningless comments with a big heart. It pains, it really pains. Sometimes it pains a lot more.

Time and again, such off hand comments serve as a reality check for her that ‘no matter how much she may boast that she belongs to both the lands, she is owned by none’.

Going back to her seemingly emotionless father, she was later told by her Mom, on the way back home, he had remarked in a heavy voice:

“The loud mouth that she is, she will certainly be a loss to us, but she will not be a gain, and more of a pain for the other side.”

P.S. This cry is not directed at any single person or incident, but at a pattern of reactions that shoot, off and on, owing to an identical mindset which many many on both sides share. However, it is  the  understanding & acceptance from  friends both ‘real or ‘virtual’ who make our ordeal worthwhile.

Moin Bhai Dilliwala, a tribute to Moin Akhter

As if the year passed in a stroke. It is hard to come to terms that one year has passed since Moin Akhter left us.

A stand up comedian who took the art to a level whose altitude is hard for any other actor  to surmount.

As a family friend there are countless small and big moments to cherish,  which are no less pleasant and hilarious, than his performances.

Actions speak louder than words, hence Moin in action, not words is the best way to pay tribute to him.

I pay homage to this monument of Comedy called Moin Akhter through my favourite piece.

The episode touched me, and related to me in more than one way.

First it was one of the million brilliant performances as a Dilliwala by Moin Bhai, who often chose to speak to me exclusively in a Dilli wali wisko, jisko dialect.
Being a Delhiite, what could be more pleasing, than see his genius turn into ‘mere sheher wala’ at a flicker, both on and off the screen.

Secondly, being an Indian-Pakistani, this Indo-Pak collaboration where Moin acts as a Dilliwala who migrated to Karachi,Pakistan, and the brilliant comedian Javed Jaffery representing a Dilliwala residing in Delhi, India, I found it so close to my own life.

Thirdly, it is a perfect example to showcase how the two Delhi cultures survive thousands of miles apart, and yet distorted  in their own ways.

Fourthly, the interaction between these two Dilliwalas also showcases the ground reality of how the two countries relate to each other in a love-hate relationship through cricket.

Last but certainly the most important reason, why  I emotionally fell for the episode, is the of Indo-Pak visa, and how the Indian Dilliwala,  used cricket as an easy way out to jump the grueling process of obtaining a visa to meet his near and dear ones on the other side of the border.

For those who have to go through this ordeal can very well relate to how the visa process acts as a heartless wall between the loved ones conjoined in heart, yet separated by the political border.

Friend or no friend of Moin Bhai, Dilliwala or no Dilliwala, cricket match new or old, I am sure everyone will be as thrilled to watch it as I am even after having viewed it over a dozen  times previously. (Many will  find it exaggerated, but perhaps comedy is always so  🙂 ).

P.S. My special apologies to my non-Urdu/ Hindi understanding Blog followers and friends.  I wish I could translate the episode, and could share with you the thrill of watching the pure genius, the king of stand up comedy in Pakistan, who was also a personal friend, mimic like a typical  resident of the walled city of Old-Delhi, my city.




Osteoporosis~ the silent thief Pre-Test


Before you begin to read the Health Blog Osteoporosis-The silent thief I would request you to take this Pre-Test to assess your awareness on OSTEOPOROSIS.

1. Osteoporosis is a condition:
A. It is a disease of painful joints
B. It is a cancer of bones
C. It is thinning of bones
D. It is an inborn disease.

2. Osteoporosis occurs in
A. Children
B. In old people only
C. In women only
D. In both men and women.

3. Osteoporosis is:
A. Not serious enough to worry about.
B. It has no cure.
C. It is a disease with serious complications
D. Cannot be avoided.

4. Osteoporosis:
A. Is a rare disease
B. It occurs mostly in whites
C. It occurs in cold countries
D. South Asian ethnicity is a high risk for Osteoporosis.

5. The risk factors for Osteoporosis are all except:
A. Smoking
B. Menopause
C. Exercise
D. Medications like Steroids

After having taken this exercise check the answers from the comment box below to see if your information on Osteoporosis was correct.

Before we begin, it is important to know that Osteoporosis is absolutely unrelated to Osteoarthritis.

Osteoporosis is the thinning of the bones ( not joints), and hence may not be painful, but a lot more serious as it makes the bones vulnerable to fractures even with the slightest of movement like bending or even coughing. Hence reducing the quality of life considerably.

Osteoarthritis is a disease of the joints that occurs as a person ages and causes deformity and pain in the joints.

The blog on May 1 shall be dedicated to OsteoArthritis, another important health problem in South Asians.

Now for information on Osteoporosis~ a silent thief read this >>

Osteoporosis ~ a silent thief

Before reading the information on Osteoporosis below, please take this Pre-Test :

Osteoporosis literally means porous bones, or thinning of bones.

Calcium is laid down in the bones for strength. However, for various reasons, calcium deposition may becomes less, leading to thinning of bones.

Why a silent theif?

Bones are weight bearing organs.
The thinning of bones can go on for years quietly, without any apparent symptoms, and hence will not be known by the person.  However, the thin bone may suddenly create problem as it breaks. This beginning of  the complications will occur years or decades later. Therefore, it is important to know the thinning of bones well ahead of time, so that the risk of fracture can be prevented.

Gender difference? 

There is  a sudden decrease in bone density in women after menopause, while in men it is gradual with age and with slow fall in male hormone testosterone. Prevalence of Osteoporosis is 1 in 4 in women while 1 in 8 in men.
Especially men who have had certain medical conditions, on medications, chronic smokers and chronic drinkers may be specially vulnerable to Osteoporosis.

MYTH: It is just a myth  that osteoporosis  is a problem only in women. 

Which are the most common sites of fracture?

The three most common sites to fracture from tinning of bones are: are neck of femur( thigh bone), wrist and vertebrae ( back bone).

THE WRIST : Fracture of wrist is the commonest, but not life threatening, but can serve as a warning sign for those who are not aware of their bone density.

THE BACKBONE : The fracture of the vertebrae may give unsightly hump, may reduce the height or have back ache to begin with. And if progressive can make one unable to lead active life.

THE THIGH BONE : As obvious from the picture below, the neck of femur acts like the steel bridge, bearing weiight of the body. If it gets weak, it can fracture easily. This is the most serious of all the three fractures. These fracture immediately make a person bedridden, and about 30% of then die in first year and another 25% remain bed ridden for rest of the life.

How do you assess your Osteoporosis risk ?

Check  if it applies:

• Am I 65 or older?
• Have I broken a bone from a simple fall or bump since age 40?
• Has either my mother or father had a hip fracture?
• Do I smoke?
• Do I regularly drink three or more alcoholic drinks per day?
• Do I have a condition that requires me to use a steroid medication for over 3 months duration?
• Did I have an early menopause, i.e. before age 45?
• Have my periods ever stopped for several months or more (other than for pregnancy or menopause)?
• Have I ever suffered from impotence, lack of sexual desire or other symptoms related to low levels of testosterone (male sex hormone)?
• Do I currently weigh less than 60 kg or 132 lbs?
• Have I lost more than 10% of my body weight since age 25?
• Have I recently had an X-ray that showed a spinal fracture?
• Have I had an X-ray that showed low bone mineral density?
• Do I take any medication that can cause osteoporosis such as an aromatase inhibitor for breast cancer or hormonal treatment (androgen deprivation therapy) for prostate cancer?
• Do I have a medical condition that can cause bone loss or fractures? Eg rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, gastric bypass surgery, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or chronic liver disease.

IMPORTANT ADVICE: If you are over 50 and have checked ONE or MORE of the above, most Osteoporosis guidelines recommend that you talk to your DOCTOR  to see if you need a bone mineral density test and about doing a comprehensive fracture risk assessment (with FRAX or CAROC).

REASSURANCE: And in case you are told to have osteoporosis ( significantly low bone density) or osteopenia ( slightly low bone density), it is not a matter to panic but to thank your stars that you have come to know this before any serious fractures or disabilities occurred.  Know that  the problem can  be controlled by advice and medications from a specialist Endocrinologist or Gynecologist.


How can you avoid Osteoporosis ?

• Adequate amounts of calcium
• Adequate amounts of vitamin D
• Regular exercise

Calcium Requirement:

Foods high in Calcium

Milk, cheese and other dairy products are good sources of calcium.

Other foods high in calcium include vegetables like broccoli, kale, chickpeas, French beans, baked beans and red kidney beans as well as dried fruits and nuts like almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts and sesame seeds. Fruits like oranges, grapefruits, figs and apricots are also rich in calcium.

Fish like sardines in oil, fried whitebait and tinned salmons contain high amounts of calcium. You will get plenty of calcium from desserts like fruit cheesecake, ice cream, milk custard and canned rice pudding as well as breads and grains like pasta, wholemeal bread, white bread and white rice. Some other sources of calcium are eggs, soybean tofu, cheese macaroni, cheese omelet and lasagna.

If not completed through foods, Calcium requirement should be met with Calcium supplements like Calcium Carbonate or Calcium Phosphate.
You may use the chart below to calculate your calcium intake, roughly.

Vitamin D

 Vitamin D is necessary for your body to absorb calcium. Many people get adequate amounts of vitamin D from sunlight, but this may not be a good source if you live in high latitudes, if you’re housebound, or if you regularly use sunscreen or you avoid the sun entirely because of the risk of skin cancer. Scientists don’t yet know the optimal daily dose of vitamin D. A good starting point for adults is 600 to 800 international units (IU) a day.


Exercise can help you build strong bones and slow bone loss. Combine strength training exercises with weight-bearing exercises.

Strength training helps strengthen muscles and bones in your arms and upper spine, and weight-bearing exercises — such as walking, jogging, running, stair climbing, skipping rope, skiing and impact-producing sports — mainly affect the bones in your legs, hips and lower spine.

Swimming, cycling and exercising on machines such as elliptical trainers can provide a good cardiovascular workout, but because such exercises are low impact, they’re not as helpful for improving bone health as weight-bearing exercises are.

Baisakhi in Kashmir~ a tryst with nature.

“Woken up with the slightest of hint, we jumped out of our warm beds excitedly and got ready without much fuss. Ammi packed food in a four tiered brass tiffin carrier, placed plates, spoons, a stove, Samovar and other needful in a cane basket, and by 8:00 AM we were heading for the Hazratbal end of the Dal Lake. The mission was to take a shikara( a boat) and have a daylong picnic in Nishat Bagh.”
This is how I remember we began the Baisakhi day,  April 13th, each year without fail.

This ritual was as religiously followed as the morning Namaz on every Eid Ul Fitr.

The shikara took us in half an hour to the other side, right in front of the gates of Nishat Bagh, built by Moghuls at the bank of Dal Lake.

The picnic began the moment we stepped into a shikara, vying to sit at the side, so that we would be able to splash our hands in the water, or  to watch the flora and fauna beneath the surface- the weeds, fishes, tadpoles, or to catch lilies, lotuses as the shikara waded through thick of green round leaves floating on the surface.

It was as if Nishat Bagh, the host location on Baisakhi, welcomed and embraced every family residing in Srinagar, into its lap generously, allocating each a piece of Heaven  to sit.

Life was extremely simple yet beautiful.

It feels weird now, but our parents never fussed over capturing these precious moments in camera, very often. I remember the bulky camera ceremoniously coming out of Papa’s closet mostly on our Birthdays. Video camera was a far cry, and I wonder if it really existed then.

Imagine all the Dads did not have the cell phones , to keep them connected to the world they had left behind on a daylong picnic, or to discuss the latest models of smart phones or palm tops. They still had a treasure of knowledge to discuss on books, poetry or politics. I remember Papa sparing no occasion to sing his all time favourite Kajri “Kaise khelan jayyo savan”.

And Moms? What to talk of channels, or soaps, there wasn’t a TV station in Kashmir until 1975. But yes, I remember Ammi often talk of Meena Kumari, and the film Pakeezah she and Papa had gone to see as a late night show, leaving us kids asleep with a house nanny. They talked about their knitting projects and shared recipes of how to make jams, or chutneys of the apples, plums or strawberries that grew in each of our backyards.

Providing a completely home-made lunch was one of their prime purposes in life, even on a picnic day. They would light the stoves; they brought along, to serve a hot lunch. Since we stayed there till the dusk, even pakoras were fried right at the spot, and served along with the evening tea, poured out steaming hot from the Samovar.

I wonder if I had known till then, what disposable plates or cutlery was? The melamine plates would come out of the cane basket. There were no soda pops to go with the food on picnics. Once the lunch was done, the women folk would walk up to the spring or the fountain at the top end of the spot, to rinse the utensils before packing up. There was barely any stuff to litter, except perhaps the biodegradable bones, skins and seeds from eatables consumed.

For us kids, there were no rides, no vendors selling balloons, no ice cream vans standing by to make us have a valid reason to cry and spoil the fun for our merrying ( Pardon my English!) parents.

Running up and down the length of the Bagh, balancing at the edges of flower beds, high jumping over the bushes, rolling in the grass slopes for a race, were our austere yet brilliant ideas of a day out. We referred to them not ‘flowers’ but by their names as pansies, nargis, dog flowers, dahlias, nasturtiums, asters, roses etc. I remember Papa taking pride that we were more knowledgeable about the nomenclature than him.

Picking dandelions and blowing them on friend’s faces or pressing open the jaws of dog flowers and whoww whowwing at each other was our idea of fun. The meanest we got was when we hit each other with the hard seeds of acorn.
Chasing  butterflies to catch them by bare hands, only release them later was perhaps the height of our useful play.

In summary, picnics on any occaision, and a tryst with nature on each picnic was a way of life in Kashmir. Baisakhi was just one.

One couldn’t have asked for a better childhood.

As remarks a friend, who too lived in Kashmir: “I have a hole in my heart as big as the size of Kashmir.”

As I tweeted about memories of Baisakhi picnic, a friend who still resides in Jammu replied: ” Memories, memories, a lot has changed now but Kashmir is still there – shattered & tattered.”

A deep sigh !  was all I could offer to him in reply.

Sitar, Sarod and Santoor

If  “Music is wine” the following three intoxicationg  instrumental pieces do live up to these remarks by Beethoven.


Sitar by Pandit Ravi Shanker  


Sarod by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan : 


Santoor by Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma: 

“How does one put the spiritual significance of music on paper?  Music transcends all languages and barriers and is the most beautiful communicative skill one can have. Music makes us all experience different emotions or the Navarasa as we call it. Different types of music, whether it is vocal or instrumental, Eastern or Western, Classical or Pop or folk from any part of the world can all be spiritual if it has the power to stir the soul of a person and transcend time for the moment. It makes one get goose-bumps in the body and mind and equates the highest mental orgasm and the release of grateful tears! ”
~ Pt. Ravi Shanker.

In philosophy :

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”

Please pray for us too, Mr President !

Just a few weeks ago I was moved to hear an ex Indian Chief Election Commissioner say to Najam Sethi:

“Hamara Makkah Medina to aap ke paas hai.”
(Our Mecca and Madina are with you).

After retirement he had come to visit the holy places of Sikh in Pakistan, the Nankana Sahib and other holy shrines in Pakistan.

Now we hear our  President Zardari  is going to pay a private visit to the Dargah of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti,( RA) at Ajmer on April 8, 2012. This Dargah is an important Holy place for those revering Sufi saints. It is a shrine where 12,000 devotees from all faiths and sects visit each day.

It is a destination that was held in high esteem by the most secular of all Mughal kings, Emperor Akbar. It is said that once Akbar, passing by a village near his capital Agra, heard some minstrels chanting ditties about the glories and virtues of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti “May his grave be hallowed, who sleeps in Ajmer.”

He expressed his desire to visit the shrine of this great man whose songs were being sung. From then on, he made it a routine to visit the shrine every year.

Not only did he visit to ask for prayers, he even paid visit of thanks to the Dargah for his important military victories.
The most moving expression of his devotion was the journey of this great Mughal King, when he walked bare foot from Agra to Ajmer (346 kms) just to express his gratitude on the birth of his son, who later became Jehangir. He had named him Salim after another sufi saint who was enshrined in Fatehpur Sikri.

Knowing Akbar as not only a great King whose kingdom extended from Kandahar in the west to Bay of Bengal in the East, his most revered quality was his extreme tolerance and acceptance of other religions. He eyed and treated all his subjects which included Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Zoroastrians and Muslims with an ‘equal tolerance’ policy. Not only did Akbar have Man Singh as his Chief Military Commander, but his Finance Minister was Raja Todar Mal.

With this historical background in perspective, and the fact that the lines across culture and history of India and Pakistan cannot be divided as clearly as the lines that have been drawn across the political border, we can only hope that in his private visit to the Dargah, President Zardari will not only pray for himself, but also for the peace and amity between various ethnic groups and sects that have taken against each other from Karachi to Gilgit in Pakistan.

We also hope and beg to Mr President to please also pray for peace and cooperation between India and Pakistan, and for the greater good of the whole subcontinent. With the unofficial news of business agreements being talked between the two neighbours, one can rejoice with hope that these prayers will be listened at the Dargah soon, and the region where a billion and a half humanity resides, shall see its potential better put to use through trust and trade, rather than through hatred and hindrance.

I am sure as a courtesy, Mr President, during the private lunch with Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh, will suggests to him to pay a visit to his ‘Makkah Medina’ in Pakistan.

How I also wish that they both also think and discuss that the ordinary people too, on both sides, not just hold great reverence to these holy places, but also have burning desires in their hearts to visit with ease, their friends and kin living across the border.

How I wish a day comes when even an ordinary citizen from either side, is able to decide like Mr President, that he needs to make a private visit across the border at the coming weekend, and there he goes with his plans without having to bother about visa, or police inquiry.

These may just be my dreams today, but don’t dreams come true too?

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