Open up your mind and your potential reaches infinity…


This picture was e-mailed to me by a dear friend.

Notice the facial expressions and body language of each of these 4 individuals seen in the picture. Try to guess what could be the story, before you read the context.

HumaNITY

The email said: “Abdul Raheem, an Afghan soldier who lost both his hands in war, received a pair of hands from Joseph of Kerala who had suffered brain death. Joseph’s wife and daughter are looking at the hands that once caressed them. The transplant surgery was performed by Dr Subramanian Iyer (blue shirt) of the Amrita Hospital, Kerala.
A Hindu doctor – a Christian organ-donor – a Muslim recipient. This is ‪#‎humanity‬.”

“We do not need guns and bombs to bring peace, we need love and compassion.”
Mother Teresa


Dear humanity,

A cold, wet, February night in Canada for ‪#‎LongestNightPeel‬  made me appreciate what ‪#‎homelessness‬ means and what the homeless go through, physically and emotionally, every day, every night.
Sleeping in the car, there was loneliness, it was cold, it was wet, there was limited space, there were lights flashing from outside and passers by were peeping in. And it might as well have been dangerous too if we did not have 5 cars parked next to each other.

We  are blessed we all had warm homes awaiting us, loved ones praying for us, friends sending text messages for strength and family eager for us to come back safe in the morning.

Lone homeless humans who sleep in cars or huddle in sleeping bags in public spaces, on pavements don’t have that luxury of accompanied cars for company or for safety. And they are pushed from parking lot to parking lot by security guards as it is against the bylaws  to after hours  or to sleep in public places.
They don’t even have loved ones praying for them or concerned for them, and there are no warm human arms or hearts or beds to return to.

As I lay there, the clocks slowed down, giving an endless opportunity  to ponder on the mysteries of creation, on how equal opportunities remains just  a good idea and the burning question on why Father Fortune favors some and not  some others?  It brought home the power of phrases, “to be in others shoes” and “how blessed we are”. 

It was an experience of a life time. Now, every day as I will sleep in the warmth of my bed, it will have a different meaning. Gandhi’s words,“Poverty is the worst form of violence.”  will haunt even more.

Thanks to United Way of Peel Region family that gave me this opportunity to experience what is hard to imagine otherwise.

With more power to the kind hearts who strive beyond petty divides of borders, beliefs, skin color, ethnicity etc for a just, safe and inclusive world, I salute you all.

 

Context:

Some hard stats on poverty and homelessness in Peel:

homelessness-in-peel

There is acute shortage of shelters for the homeless in Peel Region, Ontario, Canada. 450 youth are refused a bed each year. In order to raise awareness against homelessness, to ask for more government support to shelters, to push for policies  that alleviate poverty,  develop affordable housing and to raise funds to support programs for the homeless, United Way of Peel Region organized  #LongestNightPeel Initiative. Sixty community members slept in their cars on February 19, 2016 and have so far raised over $51,000, while the funds are still being collected.
Peel Community is compassionate and generous, they heard our appeal.
With yet another step towards a diverse yet inclusive Peel…

I end with a quote from Gandhi:
Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, try the following experiment: Recall the face of the poorest and most helpless person you have ever seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be for any use to him or to her … Then you will find your doubts and your self melting away.”

LongestNight


 

When I am overcome with weakness,

I bandage my heart with a woman’s patience in adversity.
I bandage it with the upright posture of a Syrian woman who is not bent by bereavement, poverty, or displacement as she rises from the banquets of death and carries on shepherding life’s rituals.
She prepares for a creeping, ravenous winter and gathers the heavy firewood branches, stick by stick from the frigid wilderness.
She does not cut a tree, does not steal, does not surrender her soul to weariness, does not ask anyone’s charity, does not fold with the load, and does not yield midway.

I bandage my heart with the determination of that boy they hit with an electric stick on his only kidney until he urinated blood. Yet he returned and walked in the next demonstration.

I bandage it with the steadiness of a child’s steps in the snow of a refugee camp, a child wearing a small black shoe on one foot and a large blue sandal on the other, wandering off and singing to butterflies flying in the sunny skies, butterflies and skies seen only by his eyes.

I bandage it with December’s frozen tree roots, trees that have sworn to blossom in March or April.

I bandage it with the voice of reason that was not affected by a proximate desolation.

I bandage it with veins whose warm blood has not yet been spilled on the surface of our sacred soil.

I bandage it with what was entrusted by our martyrs, with the conscience of the living, and with the image of a beautiful homeland envisioned by the eyes of the poor.

I bandage it with the outcry: “Death and not humiliation.”


A 75 year old Syrian Christian lady from Hama, works with my friend’s home as a cook. Apart from the fact that she makes amazing Syrian food, my  friend has employed her to support her financially. Not sure how she came here(as I have not interrogated her), but I know my friend worked hard to get her husband from Syria. The old man was served two deportation orders failing to obtain asylum until about six months ago, the Canadians accepted his application after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. The gentleman is going through treatment now here in Canada.

My friend is also working to get her widowed daughter, with two sons 21 and 22 years old who are stuck in Syria. Her daughter’s husband had died in Syria 3 years ago from some medical ailment, failing to get treatment. My friend is working through a nearby mosque she attends to raise funds to call the family as privately sponsored refugees.

Each time I meet her and inquire about her daughter and sons, she has only sad stories to share, of their struggle back home. According to her is no employment, no school and no medical care available where they live currently.

The dedication with which she cooks in my friends house is touching, knowing how hard it is for her own close kin back home.

In my endeavor to look for how Syrians at home and abroad are coping with the conflict, I have been referred to some very creative Syrians who are expressing their pain and agony through various artforms. This only bears witness to the amazing intellect in the Syrian nation, caught in a filthy regional hegemony war.

Nizar Ali Badr a stone sculptor from ‪#‎Latakia‬, ‪#‎Syria‬ now residing in Turkey makes stones sculptures telling ‪#‎Syrian‬ story of torture, war and refugees.
Simple assembly of stones speak of the complex emotions, which words would fail to convey at times.

In his words: “I love dust and stones from.Syria. My message is a humanitarian message.”

Nazir4Nazir5Nazir6Nazir7Nazir8Nazir9Nazir10

Nazir11Nazir1Nazir2

Some of his works that portray peace and love are also extremely pleasing.

Nazir13Nazir14 Nazir3

Nazir15NAZIR17nAZIR16

They say miracles do happen and stones do speak. May these powerful stony expressions somehow turn into prayers for peace in Syria.
Amen.


 

Last week we welcomed in an event three Syrian families who had barely arrived 48 hours ago. Their weather beaten faces were all glowing with smiles.
I asked a 7 year old girl, “What do you like best in Canada?”
She replied with the widest possible grin, “The warmth.”
I thought she meant the hospitality.
Her mom explained with a twinkle in her eyes, “We were living in tents for 2 years. She grew up not knowing that in extreme cold there can be clothes thick enough and home warm enough to avoid cold weather.”
I hugged the mom tight.

Below are a few mind blowing illustrations of Syrian Kurds  by Molly Crabapple, a medical illustrator by proffession. Molly had gone to work with Doctors Without Borders in a Kurdish Syrian Refugee Camp. She illustrated not only their images but also their dreams and fears in words.

Every piece is like reading a novel, that touches somewhere deep. Kindly take time to read the small print too.

Molly1

Molly2Molly8Molly7Molly6Molly4Molly3Molly5

For past 5 years, I thought we had been a brave family to have immigrated to far away Canada. We came with a comfort of enough preparation in spirit and in kind.

Never in my mind did I imagine I would be working closely in different capacities for refugees from Syria. The experience of meeting and getting to know some of them has been an incredibly humbling experience.

Refugee was only a word we had often heard and thought understood it’s meaning very well. Knowing its implications, and associating names and faces to this word has been an experience that struggles to find adequate expressions in words.

May Canada and we Canadians be a source of peace and warmth to these new Canadians and all those that arrive in weeks from now.

Amen.

More War Art blogs to continue…

 

 


Syrian war is a shame of our times.

This war had reset the standards of barbarism. Almost all kinds of war weapons have been used from both sides- brutal killings, burning the victims, rapes, hunger, seige and you name it.

I have personally talked to Syrian Refugees Muslims, Christians and Kurds, arriving here, and they speak of Assad and ISIS as the #SAMESHIT. Not one said they were happy with Assad.

As I post the  Channel 4 News Video on Homs, Syria,  a friend comments:
“This level of barbarity should not be possible in today’s day age. Yet, looking at the complete destruction of this city leaves me speechless !”

The images remind me of an artwork from Syria that had gone viral a few years ago. I hunt and hunt and finally dig out a treasure to my amazement.

It was first  of a series  work by Syrian artist Tammam Azzam, who studied fine arts from University of Damascus. Azzam used the devastating, war ravaged images from Syria and superimposed renowned master pieces of the art to send a polite message to the world.

His first piece “Freedom Graffiti” in which he used The Kiss by Gustav Karl was the piece that went viral in February 2013.  Syria1

The other images in the series, by the same artist are equally mindblowing:

Andy Warhol’s ElvisSyria2- Andy Warhol's Elvis

 

Henry Matisse’s The Dance: Syria3 Henry Matisse's The Dance

Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night:Syria4 Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night

Edward Munche’s The Scream
Syria5 Edvard Munch's The Scream

Francisco Goya’s The 3rd of May 1808:Syria6 Francisco Goya's The 3rd of May, 1808

Paul Gauguin’s Tahitian Women:Syria7 Paul Gauguin's Tahitian Women on the Beach

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa:Syria8 Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa.jpg

Salvadore Dali’s Sleep:Syria8 Salvadore Dali's Sleep.jpg

Finally he sends an affectionate message to the world powers especially those engaged in Geneva Talks, which obviously has fallen on deaf ears so far.

Geneva Bon Voyage:Geneva Bonvoyage.jpg

As the brutal world powers wrangle and wrestle over the fate of his people, failing to agree for peace, Tammam Azzam and many other artists try to touch the conscience of international community, to pay heed that the Syrian plight.

More such series of other art works and artforms from Syria will follow in subsequent blogs.

May the art work heal us all. May peace be with us all.

 

 

 


Growing up in New Delhi in 70s and 80s was very ordinary. It was not until the late 80s when the Ram Janm Bhoomi issue surfaced, and insecurities increased,  that one realized what seemed an ordinary childhood, was actually une expérience extraordinaire.

We lived in a neighborhood where majority of the residents were of other faiths, most of them warm and friendly, with few exceptional ‘communal’ individuals or families.Their prejudiced remarks gave a little break to the usual monotony of goodness, and nothing more.

Those who had not met any Muslim families before befriending us, pampered us with adorable innocent judgmental compliments, “We didn’t know Muslims are so nice and broadminded too.” 

As ambassadors of a ‘good’ Muslim family, we were unknowingly breaking the stereotypes of  ‘backward’ Muslims.

Papa would often  joke, “Jee main Musalman huun mager meri ek hi biwi hai, aur sirf teen bachey hain. Aur merey daarhi bhi nai hai.”  There would be laughter and  humorous replies in response like, “Jee hum Brahmin hain lekin  hamare bhi sir per choti nai hai.” 

All was going well. 🙂

Our cultural boundaries were unmarked by our parents, thus letting us experience  fascinating blend of Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb. One of the most beautiful examples this blend was Ammi. Though from a Syed family, she grew up in Jaipur amidst Rajputs, and then got married in a Sheikh family of Delhi.  She switched from reading Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas in Sanskrit  to understanding  Ghalib’s Farsi poetry with equal ease. Ammi  fasted  in Ramazan, never missing a prayer,  but  then would also hop on the adjacent roof top with her friend Meera next door to view the moon through a sieve on Karwa Chauth, declaring that she too had fasted all day, for Papa’s long life.

Sharma Auntie who lived nearby did not have any children. I do not recall how it began, but from early school years till I passed out as a medical graduate, I would go to her house on every Diwali to make a rangoli in her angan.  I was referred by  her as her ‘susheel beti’ and with tons of prayers “Ishwar tumko hamesha sukhi rakhe”.  Sharma Auntie would also make sure that she visited us on Eid with an envelope of Eidi  for me.

rangoli

On the day of my wedding, she came  early in the morning straight after her Pooja with a shagun( auspicious offering) for my happy married life. And while I was having my Bidai, there were my two mothers crying, Ammi and Sharma Auntie.  My in laws who had come from Pakistan were in awe to see we had so many nice Hindu friends.

Looking back and reading the news of current spate of  violence in India and ban on Muslims in Garba, it is hard to swallow how much have things gone awry. And why?

As kids, certainly not to radicalize us, but to familiarize us with our Muslim customs too, we were taken to Dada Abba’s house in Jama Masjid, or to Nani’s home in Jaipur and Agra to witness occaisions like Juma’t Ul Vida, Eid Prayers, Ashura processions and at times even the not so pleasant Qurbani on Baqr Eid.  They were as Papa called them, ‘fun  and learn’ trips.

With the current tussle on social media to ban ‘Shia processions’ in Pakistan I wondered if we ever as kids imagined Moharram as a Shia thing? My Nana Abba and Mamoojans in Jaipur, being prominent family in the community, took out their family Taziya, accompanying the Muharram Juloos all the way to the local Karbala. As the Ashura Juloos passed in front of Nana Abba’s house, there were volunteers waiting with bucketfuls of pink Sherbet to be distributed to them. We stood at the side watching one Taziya pass after another, eagerly waiting for the special ‘Bara Taziya’ and then at the very last the Gold-Silver Taziya donated  by Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh of Jaipur.

Around mid day would arrive Sattar Bhai,  with all his groceries required for the making of Khichra( Haleem)- a complete food with grains, pulses, meat and rich condiments in a deep and wide degh. Maleeda, made out of crumbs of sweet thick rotis was the accompanying dessert. My cousin informed they now make instant maleeda from Sheermal. Since it was Niaz meal, a great care was taken that there was no wastage and no left over food will be thrown away.

Similarly Ammi’s extended family in Agra, which was also a prominent Syed Sunni family of the city, not only had their own Taziya but also organized a sabeel: creating a miniature village exhibit quite similar to what we see here in malls in the West during Christmas season. I had faint memories, so I whatsapped a cousin, to find the details. This is how she responded immediately:Muharram1 And as obvious from this conversation, the tradition still continues in many Sunni families.

What we saw on occasional trips to Nani’s house in Jaipur,  Ammi had grown up observing Ashura since her birth. I never saw my Nani, Nana, Mamoos or Ammi wear black in Muharram, I never saw them crying in Muharram, but I found them somber and refusing to attend wedding invitations in the month of Muharram. Till date she commands me on every 10th Muharram, “Beta aaj music mut sun-na.”

Unfortunately interfaith fences are getting higher, as Ashura Juloos is perceived as ‘Shia’ in Pakistan and Garba has become a ‘Hindu’ event in India. It has become almost  impossible for moderate parents to let their children grow and absorb the goodness from each side, and discover on their own that there are no right or wrong faiths and no good or bad cultures.

The dilemma of not able to take sides on sentimental grounds, leads one to be judged a RAW agent when supporting India or a Taliban when associated with Pakistan. Equally narrow has become the sectarian outlook, where if you criticize Iranian Theocracy, you are hurled a Yazid slur and if you criticize Saudi extremism, you are a confirmed Islamophobe.

The more the religions become tools to play politics, the more these age old traditions will be presumed as exclusive shows of religious supremacy rather than inclusive cultural practices.

Things are progressing from bad to worse at a pace never seen before. Human beings  certainly don’t appear in a mood for tolerance, what to speak of inclusion. One is left to wonder whether God will salvage the inclusive traditions of Muharram Juloos or Garba Festivals from the bullies of Sectarianism or Nationalism?