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Archive for the ‘My world’ Category

Educate a woman and you educate an entire generation…


Recently a photo of a 25 year old Afghan girl Jahan Taab from  a remote poor village Oshto in Daikundi,  went viral when she was taking the college entrance exam called Kankor Exam while breast feeding her child. Later it was confirmed that she has passed the exams and wants to go to college to study Sociology. Photo credits are given to an invigilating lecturer Yahya Erfan. He was so moved by her determination that he posted the pictures on his facebook. Link here

“She got up from her desk when her baby started to get fussy. She sat down on the floor, breastfeeding the infant, and kept filling out the answers to the test.” (Buzzfeed).

She reportedly told the lecturer Mr. Erfan that she is worried about the cost of education and that the University is 8 hours from her residence. It is the power of social media that a Go-Fund was created to support the cost of here higher education.

More about JahanTaab

 

 

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Needless to say, girls’ determination to study is never an issue. The key barrier is the systemic patriarchy in the garb of cultural mores or religious edicts.

Patriarchy is such an omnipresent barrier that hinders women in all communities and all economic strata one way or the other. And here is where the role of men becomes extremely important in bringing about women empowerment by dismantling the walls of patriarchy.

Here I must share my own story too.

(Bear in mind I am an urban educated woman with a strong will power. But even then, had it also not been the supportive men in my life, I may not have sailed through various systemic hurdles that patriarchal infrastructures create at every nook and corner of a woman’s life). 

In the early 1990s, as an Indian medical graduate I had to go through a written and a clinical exam by Pakistan Medical and Dental Council to be certified to practice in Pakistan. I opted Karachi centre. When I received notification for the exam it said the exam will not be held in Karachi as there are no other candidates. The exam will be in Peshawer.

Since I lived in the Middle East, I was supposed to travel with my kids to Karachi where my in laws lived. But before I could even know and panic about how I will travel with kids to Peshawer, my husband first took an emergency leave from his hospital, and then informed me that we are all travelling to Peshawer. 

My husband Fasih and I, with our two kids- a toddler and a 6 month old breast feeding infant landed in Peshawar. It was a 3 day long exam- with a written paper and clinical exam.  From day 1, my husband sat in the lawn of the examination centre, with two babies, as he dropped me for the exam. I would come out to feed the baby every few hours in the breaks.

Funniest incident in the whole saga was when my daughter cried, “Papa potty.”
He ran with the baby in one hand and the toddler in another to the washroom.
As he entered the male washroom the guard said, “Take the girl to female washroom with her mother.”
“BUT mother is busy in exam.”
“Then wait.”
“But this baby cannot wait. She has to go urgently.”
So the guard let him take her to the washroom. And while holding the infant in arms he helped the toddler finish the job and clean her. 
Finally they came back to play and sit in the lawn again. 
And then he smelt the baby has soiled his diaper. He ran again to the same wash room.
The chowkidar got annoyed, “Ap pher se as gaye?” (You have come again?).
Fasih: “Smell this diaper.”
The guard laughed and commented, “Aur parhao biwi ko.”(Let your wife study more).

After day1 the entire examination team knew about my family and when I went from each viva and clinical exam, from Internal Medicine to General Surgery to ENT to ObGyn to Ophthalmology, first thing the professors asked was how are the husband and babies doing? 
Second question they asked was, “Where have you graduated from?”. 
On reply “Lady Hardinge Medical College in New Delhi” every single one of them began the viva with the comment, “So do we really need to test your knowledge?”
No bragging but I passed with the top position. 

The head examiner was Prof Zakaullah Beg who was my husband’s professor in his postgraduate life. He himself called Fasih on phone 2 weeks later in Karachi to break the news.

Moral of the story: Empower a woman and she will make her husband, family and entire community proud.

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The Flawless Purse: Dilemma of Consumerism


In style she clutched a glossy purse,
Tight between her hand and her chest,
Protecting it from falling or
From being scratched,
From the pointed necklace
Around her own neck.
She had saved for years,
And dreamed of even longer
To own this branded gem.
She holds on to it firm,
Yet all tender, all protective,
Like a beautiful relationship,
Between two souls,
Knowing how hurt,
The purse can get,
When there are bruises
And that the purse
shall never be the same,
if held back after it falls.
So precious, and so priceless,
She finally owns a flawless dream.
But oh for the flawed souls,
They come and go in our lives.

ClutchBag

Bread pakorey ki kasam



If seeing this ^^^ picture, your eyes twinkled, lips curved into a wide grin, your mouth began to water and it flashed back the awesome memories of your alma mater, please stand up !

And to those who find the above sentence a gross exaggeration, and cynical, I don’t blame you. For you are an alien to this experience.

To the first group, know you are a Delhiite and more specifically went to DU as a student. And you don’t even need to be explained what DU stands for. But for the latter, btw, it stands for Delhi University .

What fish n chips is to London, or hamburger is to Mc Donalds, this luscious snack is to Delhi. This is the  finger food we all relished ( I wonder if they still do) in cramped Delhi University cafetarias, without realising its awesomeness.

Being away from Delhi now for over two decades, the gold test for me to check whoever claims “I am from Delhi.” is the mention of the clue word “Bread Pakora”. If instead of a wide eyed expression screaming ‘wierdo’, the return expression is an instant wholesome grin, you know the claim is authentic. You don’t even need to double check them.

To give you another evidence of my cynical attachment to a bread pakora, it was only for the ‘Bread pakore ki kasam’ tag line, that got me watch, Band Baja Baraat twice.

In the good old simple days of limited pocket money, and even more limited options in the DU cafes, this large sized, yummy snack with a hot cup of chai came in handy and filling in the lunch hour, for an affordable Rs 5/-

Just as in some other part of the world, mustard compliments hotdogs, our austere bread pakora came proudly partnered to even more austere yet yummy Kaddu Ketchup (Pumpkin ketchup).  And the two stayed married to each other, no matter how much the arrogant branded ketchups belittled it , on TV ads of our days:
“Thora ketcup try karo?”
“Ketchup hota kaddoo bhara”
“Is mein kaddoo nahin zara,
Raseele tamataron se tayyar,
Volfarm .”
( If I still remember it correctly) .

Whenever I get into my “Ayy mere pyaare watan, tujh pe dil qurban” mode, all I do is take two slices of bread, spread one with hot chilli sauce, other with green mint coriander chutney, sandwich them with mashed potatoes, or even cottage cheese, cut them in two triangles,  coat each of them in a chick pea batter, and fry them. And with a steaming cup of tea, I transport myself back to the DU student days.

Find it weird? No worries, most of my family too, quietly radiates that subtle expression of Whats so great about bread pakora?”.

But I have learnt to not take notice of them, and not even take any offense.
They  know not what they are missing !

Believe it or not, I find it the awesomest finger food, for it carries with it a flavour of my past memories too.

Bread pakorey ki kasam !

Domestic Violence and helplessness


Here are three stories from my experience, which I personally saw growing with time.

They all had two things in common.One, that they were all  classical examples of domestic abuse, and secondly, that I was helpless in being of any help to them.

Ahmed was a 55 years old Pakistani man living in the neighbourhood. We did not know his wife for months, till when he once asked my husband if I could see her, because she was pregnant and had some complaints. Zubeida, his wife came to visit me as a patient.

With a toddler in her lap, she seemed way younger than her husband. After several visits it was revealed that she was his second wife and almost 25 years younger to him and he had married her 3 years ago. Ahmed had lived in US in his youth and married a local there. They had 3 kids and were together for 12 years after which they got divorced. He moved to the Middle East and ran a restaurant there. Now decided to marry Zubeida, from his clan, who had been a widow with three young children. So parents married her off to Ahmed, a well off businessman, while her three children, 6, 4 and 1, ( when she married) were being taken care by her parents. By the second marriage Zubeida had a 2 year old boy and was now pregnant again.

On being asked, that I never saw her in the neighbourhood, she revealed that when her husband went to work, he put a lock outside the house. And that she was instructed to not talk to anyone in the neighbourhood and tell details of their life. She wasn’t allowed to have a domestic help either.

She confided that she missed her little kids who were in Pakistan. She barely talked to them once a month because her husband didn’t like when she cried while talking to them on phone. She hadn’t seen them since she came  there, three years ago. Her husband insisted that now she should be content with the kids that she is having from him.

On being informed that this was ‘abusive’, she justified that her husband had suffered a lot at the hands of that American woman, who claimed half of his property at divorce, and took away the custody of the kids. And hence, his trust on women has been eroded.
“He always provided me with good clothes, and if I did not cook, he brought food from his restaurant.”

She said her parents were happy that despite having been widowed with three kids, she was lucky to have found a nice husband. So they do not like when she complains that she misses her older kids. She also did not want to be Thankless to God for the same.
After she delivered, I never heard from her until she was pregnant again for the third time.

Misbah (a local ), was a doctor herself.  She had married a Mutawwah (a mullah) , as his second wife, making all the justifications and necessary quotations from the religion for her act. And also narrating the virtues of marrying a religious person. Despite all the warnings from all of us at work, she went ahead.

For six months, it was sheer honeymoon for her, and she was the most obedient a wife could be. If he asked her to quit her work in the middle to see him, she would throw a sick leave and go. If he demanded her to cook something in the middle of the night, she would comply happily, for she thought she had to win his heart, over the first wife.

It was heartbreaking to see a bold friend of ours lose all her personality all of a sudden. News that she was pregnant transcended her to the seventh sky.

Six months into her pregnancy, she was devastated to discover her husband married a third time. On protesting, her husband stopped visiting her. She again resorted back to the same vicious cycle of pleasing him to draw his attention in competition with the other two wives. And the demands to please him kept multiplying exponentially. The extent his demands were such that if she talked on telephone for longer than his liking, he would leave and go to one other wife.

The complaint that, “she wasn’t paying attention to me”.

And so dutiful was he, that he never shared a penny from his own pocket with our friend, and possibly with the other two wives too, who were all working women.

We cried ‘he’s abusive’, but she wasn’t ready to accept it.

Her simple argument, “He never hits me, and that it is my duty to please my husband”.
We were left helpless.

Saira was a Indian nurse, who had come to work in the gulf. From the first month of the marriage, she handed over every penny of her salary to her husband. They were to save money to buy a land back home. Even a small demand of a dress, would need her to beg him for hours before he complied. And when they did buy the piece of land it was in his name.

For Saira, it was “Okay, because he is the man of the house. “

However, 12 years after their marriage, her husband fell in love with her own best friend, and they got married secretly. When Saira came to know, she was pregnant with her second child. From then on, she refused to hand him the salary, and this is where her physical abuse began.

Putting a brave front, she refused to comply. So his next demand was that she quit the job. She almost left the job, until we all colleagues intervened and convinced her not to.

She did ultimately, but the cycle of physical violence kept on unabated. Our cries to the people of authority were of no avail, for it was justified to have more than one wife and she was unreasonable, in being angry about it. Hence, his resorting to physical violence was justified.

Saira was unwilling to take any step to walk out on him because despite all the miseries, she still “loved him”.

Saira’s family, too, was of the opinion, “Men are all like this, women have to bear it always. “

These are just a handful of stories, from the barrage of incidences of domestic violence I have come across during my work experience.

For most women, if they were not being hit, they were not being abused. Emotional, financial or any other form of violence except physical was no abuse.

Unfortunately, in most of the cases it was the ignorance or denial on the part of sufferer, or the cover given to it through religious or cultural practices, or lack of the necessary infrastructure to lodge a complaint, that one felt helpless and miserable seeing these women continue to suffer.

And to tell you the truth, with them, I suffered too.

PS: The names of the women have been changed.

Next Blog to follow soon: Myths and Facts about Domestic Violence

Alf Leila O’Leila ~Um Kulthoom


The opening lines of this 45 minute song are:

Ya Habeebi,
My sweetheart.
Illeil wi samah, wi ingomo iw amaro, amaro wi saharo.
The night and its sky, its stars, its moon, moon and keeping awake all night.
Winta wana, ya habeebi ana, ya hayati ana.
You and me my sweetheart, my life.

-And the closing lines:

Ya habeebi yalla in3eish fi 3yoon illeil, . Winool lilshams ta3ali, ta3ali ba3di sana, mosh abli sana.
My sweetheart let us live in the eyes of the night and tell the sun come over, come after one year not before.
Fi leilate hob hilwa, bi alfi leila iw Leila, 
In a sweet night of love, in one thousand and one nights.
Bikolli il3omr, howa il3omri eih ghair Leila zayyi illeila.
They say it is the life. What is life, but a night like tonight, like tonight.

Fortunatley I grew up listening to Umm Kulthoom  and the tales of her live performances from my Professor father. I saw my father 90% times surrounded by books, but whenever he played Umm Kulsoom’s audios on the deck, in his leisure time, it was hard to envision he was the same man. I feel the poverty of expression to describe my feelings…

He would often exclaim that he got three things from his stay in Cairo in the early sixties—his PhD, a knowledge of Arabic, in the flawless Egyptian accent and love for Umm Kulsoom.

In the  1950s and 60s her concerts were broadcast once a week  on Radio.

“On Thursday nights, the streets of Cairo would empty as people gathered around radio sets to hear the great singer.”  I heard my father repeat this a countless times said with a twinkle in his eyes.

And infact, in honour of those broadcasts, Radio Egypt still broadcasts her songs every first Thursday at 10 pm.

It is hard in words to describe her charisma.  But listening to her enchanting Enta Omri,  Alf Leila o Leila and other songs over and over,  it wasn’t hard to imagine the euphoria that was created in her concerts.

Umm Kulthum was, indeed, a master at casting a spell over her audiences.

Maker of a documentary on her, ‘A Voice Like Egypt ’ Virginia Danielson says “Umm Kulthum’s concerts were famous for the spontaneous cheers that would break out whenever her performance seemed to close the gap between poetry and emotion. Poetry is a deeply revered art form in the Middle East.”

She gives an example. “When you hear Umm Kulthum sing, “I’m afraid your heart belongs to somebody else,” in the song “Ana Fe Entezarak,” she nails that anguish.  And the way she treats the word ‘somebody else,’ which is ‘inse’en,’ is just heartrending. You can hear the feeling of the poem come through in the way that she sings it.”

Her music had a unique quality called ‘tarab’ ( best translated as enchantment).

“Tarab is a concept of enchantment,” Danielson says. “It’s usually associated with vocal music, although instrumental music can produce the same effect, in which the listener is completely enveloped in the sound and the meaning in a broad experiential sense, and is just completely carried away by the performance.”

Part of tarab is the idea that listeners are as important as singers; that there’s a powerful, spiritual exchange between them that is crucial to the performance.

“But what it refers to is the experience of really being carried away by the music. People would tell preposterous stories about getting up and leaving the house and not knowing where they were going, and just all kinds of experiences of completely forgetting your troubles, completely being outside yourself, having been transported by the experience.”

Bob Dylan remarked; “She’s great. She really is. Really great.”

She was referred to as the Lady by  Charles de Gaulle and  Salvadore Dali, Jean Paul Satre, Bono were among  her fans.

Lastly, do envy me for having been nourished on this music since very young :).

Erasing psychological borders


Published in The News @AmanKiAsha on September 2, 2011

Panchee nadiya aur pawan ke jhonke, koi sarhad inhen na roke;
Sarhad to insanon ke liye hai, socho tumne aur meine kya paya insaan ho ke

Birds, rivers & gusts of wind, no borders inhibit,
Borders are for us, think what have we gained being Humans ?

This couplet by Javed Akhtar from a Bollywood blockbuster entered my ears and shook my soul.
“Wow! Javed Sahib  knows how I feel each time I go to the Indian consulate in Pakistan to apply for visas for my family to visit my parents in New Delhi.”

“In January 1990, a girl in her mid-twenties in New Delhi ties the knot with a Pakistani man in his late twenties. Happy, but quite unsure how the things in her life would unfold after that. She wasn’t a poor small-town girl getting married to a well-off cousin in Karachi in compliance with her parents’ decision. She was a typical city girl, who made it to a premier medical school in Delhi and was full of patriotic fervour for her homeland. Her parents did not become a hurdle, but advised that she decide it with full insight, and not regret later. It took her four painful and paranoid years to come to this decision. The young man across the border, putting aside his ego in the face of repeated refusals for years, convinced her that they could make it.”

Twenty years on, I can confidently say that we have made it. Our life together hasn’t been all tulips and roses of course. We’ve had our share of ups and downs, in addition to the usual hurdles any usual couple faces. Both of us being passionately patriotic about our respective homelands, it hasn’t been easy. What helped us was the erasing of psychological borders, knowing that humanity on both sides of the border has the same needs and aspirations. We promised to uphold sanity in our heads and not spew patriotic venom against each other. Not that outsiders spared us. Any bitter comment against the other side by a “patriotic acquaintance” from either side affected me more than my husband.
At times I would be reduced to tears after such taunts, to be comforted by my husband with a “mitti pao” attitude. It is not easy when someone passes a snide remark about your homeland. Any news of a bomb blast or riots in my city, would have me sitting paranoid, glued to the TV, wondering about the safety of my parents and siblings.

In kindergarten our children faced questions from curious friends – like,
“Do your have fights at home during a cricket match between India and Pakistan?”

My son would come home crying that his friends teased him about having an Indian mother, saying,
“Your mom is a traitor!”
It took him some years to feel confident that his mom wasn’t a traitor.

But the only time I really, if ever, regretted my decision was when I had to queue up outside the visa window at the consulate of a country I called my homeland. Miserable is an understatement of how I felt when the man behind the counter looked at my children, asking for details, as if I was taking little terrorist recruits with me to my beloved city.

And then on our return to Pakistan, my husband would be pulled aside by the airport security, questioning him about the frequency of his visits across the border. One has to live it to feel it.

My siblings and I grew up with our eyes open to the world issues, with parents who taught international politics at a university.
We were trained to look beyond our boundaries and feel for the suffering of others be it in Palestine, apartheid in South Africa, or Gen Zia’s martial Law in Pakistan. I salute my parents for raising us as “human” beings with a wide horizon.
Some attribute my “Indian roots” to my comments on news blogs or Face book regarding political matters in Pakistan. Yes, I am proud of my roots. But I also have a husband and two kids who are passionately patriotic Pakistanis. They love both places. And so do I. I claim that I own both countries, and love both too. Karachi is mine as much as Delhi is.

We know there is good and bad on both sides. We don’t indulge in mutual blame games. We have erased the psychological borders at home and we respect our political borders. And we love this feeling.
What if the one and half billion across both the borders could also erase the psychological borders? After all, people on both sides of the border are made of the same flesh and bones, we share the same genetic pool. I wonder if I will live to see that day.

Dr Ilmana Fasih is a gynaecologist and health activist of Indian origin, married to a Pakistani. Contact her via amankiasha@janggroup.com.pk
Friday, September 02, 2011

That the truth has a tongue…~a poem


Just a minute long poem narrates the decades of pain and suffering of innocent kids who have no reason to bear this.

All your armies ..
all your fighters ..
all your tanks ..
and all your soldiers ..
against a boy ..
holding a stone ..
standing there ..
all alone ..
in his eyes ..
I see the sun ..
in his smile ..
I see the moon ..
and I wonder ..
I only wonder ..
who is weak ? ..
and who is strong ? ..
who is right ? ..
and who is wrong ? ..
and I wish ..
I only wish ..
that the truth ..
has a tongue :