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Archive for November, 2019

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 !


Fall of Berlin Wall to Babri Mosque Verdict to Kartarpur Corridor


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. ๐Ÿ˜€
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

Choking and Laughing in Delhi’s Pollution


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 donโ€™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. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ
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

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