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Archive for August, 2011

Heart Health presentation at Aurat Health Services for South Asian Community

A Heart Health presentation done on behalf of  Aurat Health Services ffor the South Asian Community at CPR and AED Event, Mississauga, Ontario.


Nihari, here and there

The story goes back to two decades ago, when as newlywed and I had just arrived in Karachi.
An aunt ( Phuphi) of my husband invited us for a dinner on some ‘special’ delicacy (in her own words). There were a few other dishes, but all the focus was on the ‘special’ dish.

In the first glance, it looked like a thick curry with some extra large pieces of boneless meatloaves lying in it. Garnished with greens and some baghar, the aroma was appetising, I must admit.

While eating my Phuphi-in-law asked; “Do you know what this is?”
I said, “Some salan (curry) I guess.”

That must have really hurt her. She twisted her mouth with a wicked smile. My husband, too, looked wide eyed at me. So did everyone else present there. They all had that ‘poor her’ expression on their face, which generally Pakistanis had in 1970s, when their austere Indian cousins visited them.

“You don’t know this?” someone asked.
I was regretting to have guessed. It wasn’t the regret of having annoyed the aunt, but of those piercing eyes that were focussed on my ignorance of the dish.

My husband came to my rescue, “Phupho Amma, she isn’t very fond of non vegetarian food. So perhaps she doesn’t have any idea.”

My younger brother in law and a friend teased: “Yeah, bechare Indians don’t get to eat gosht so often, and beef is absolutely a taboo for them. ”

PhuphoAmma charged on me in a mother-in-law tone, “Tum kaisi Dilliwali ho, tum Nihari nahin janteen” (What sort of Delhiite are you, you are not aware of Nihari?)

I screamed before I could check my volume, “Nihari? This is not Nihari.”

Before I could blurt something else, I saw my husband giving me a look to shut up. And like an obedient new wife, I did, but with a huge turmoil within.

Back to our room, my husband assured me that perhaps this was homemade and hence not as delicious as the Khan ki Nihari famous in Karachi. Over a period of few months, we tried Niharis at several places, but I could not find what we in Delhi called  Nihari.

I admit I wasn’t very fond of Nihari till then, nor was I really conscious of Nihari being associated with Delhi. In Delhi, I had heard from my father that Nihari is a Avadhi delicacy, from Lucknow.

Anyways I wasn’t a foodie especially for non vegetarian delicacies, nor a culinary expert, nor did I have any ambitions to be one. It was an open secret at home that I had chosen to be a medical professional, so that it would save me from domestic responsibilities, especially cooking. (It turned out to be an illusion, though. But, that’s another story to tell, anyways)

Knowing very well that I was marrying a goshtkhor( meat-eater) Pakistani who was fond of good food, and who’s mother was a culinary expert, I had made it pretty clear to him that I don’t like to cook.
He had in all sincerity reassured, Anda to fry karna ata hai na? Kaafi hai.”

But as we hunted for the real Nihari, my craving for Dilli ki Nihari became stronger.

After an year and a half when I first visited my parents in Delhi, apart from the million other things on list, one on the top was to go to Jama Masjid and relish ‘the’ Nihari, which is sold right at the corner of Matia Mahal, just a furlong from Dadi Amma’s house.

As the tradition goes, Nihari is cooked  from the special shank meat of the beef, with trots in over two dozen spices, the most dominant being the saunf (anise seeds) which gives it the aroma. on slow heat and takes  several hours to get tender.  Hence usually over night as shab degh. The degh( a giant round bottomed pot)  is opened at certain times only –mostly at dawn around 7am or now, even at dusk (at Maghrib). And one has to be there at the right period of time to be able to grab it, otherwise degh lut chuki hoti hai.(It gets sold out fast).

 True to its name ‘nihari’ means pertaining to daytime, it is usually eaten at breakfast, at dawn.
Many a times I had seen Dadi Amma or any of the phuphis in the household send one of the shagirds ( disciples who come to her for learning Quran), a night earlier, to keep the pan with the shopkeeper. And as the cook would  the degh early next morning, the he would kept aside some in  her reserved pot.

The mere mention on phone of my desire to eat Nihari was enough, Dadi Amma promised to keep it reserved for me. I remember her doing the same for us with Shaadi ka Qorma and sheermal whenever any left overs arrived from a kin’s wedding, knowing that we craved for it. (Aah Dilli ka Qorma is another delicacy, not seen anywhere, which deserves another blog).

At first opportunity, we went to see Dadi Amma and others at our ancestral home in Purani Dilli.

Dadi Amma’s place, is a  house, typical  in the walled city. There is a sehan ( courtyard) at the entrance which leads to a room inside another , both of which used to have spic white chandnis spread wall to wall, and no sign of any furniture.

In addition to sleeping over, eating at Dadi Amma’s place had always been a fascinating experience. With a dastarkhwan( sheet to lay the food)  laid on chandni( the spotless white spread on the floor to sit) covered floor across the length of the room. I wonder why, but as kid, I remember vying for a place at the corner of the spread. Some of the senior family members, referred to the plates, in salees-shusta Urdu, as rakabis. And although it had since long become a routine to use glasses for water, there would always be a couple of silver plated copper katoras sitting on dastarkhwan. (Drinking water in katoras (wide bowl) was an old tradition of purani dilli).

That day too, we sat at the dastarkhwan all set to enjoy Nihari. My agenda was personal, while others were eager to see my husband’s response to Nihari. (Thanks to my negative publicity of Karachi Nihari)

With red glazing, aromatic nihari in sight, we waited till the boy brought in hot crispy nans wrapped in newspaper straight from the tan door in the gali, just a few steps away.

The first bite was like a dream come true to the nerve endings of my olfactory and taste buds. But in just a couple of seconds to my tongue, it was a reign of terror unleashed. The poor tastebuds caught fire and laid their arms in the next few bites. As if in a bid to dampen the fire, the eyes started to pour water. But I had to put a brave front, and no matter how hot the tongue burned, the ego stood firm to confirm, this is the  true “Nihari”.

All ears, including my red hot ones, were dying to hear my ‘Pakistani’ husband’s reaction on the ‘Indian’ dish. Being courteous, he remarked, It is delicious, but a bit hot for my liking.”

However, later when we went home, he revealed lightly, that he still preferred his Karachi ki maghaz Nihari. I was devastated, absolutely.  But soon rationalised that, perhaps his tastebuds, and his brain cells were conditioned to call that thick curry as Nihari. His loss not mine, I consoled myself.

My ego wanted to have this Nihari more often, though a bit less spicy, so I got keen to get its exact recipe. My mother could not believe her ears that a cooking rebel like me was asking for a recipe. She and a phuphi had their recipes to offer, but they all admitted not being experts in the dish.

It is generally a tradition in purani Dilli that women do not cook Nihari at home and when needed, they just get it ready made from outside. Probably apart from convenience, it is because of the non availability of beef and also that it needs to be cooked overnight. In Delhi we have gas cylinders, not gas through a pipeline like in Pakistan. (In the days I lived there, cylinders too were rationed).

My Dadi Amma’s wisdom guided me to go to Rehmatullah (the cook and owner of the restaurant) and get the recipe from him.

Being in a flourishing business, Rehmatullah, was unwilling to part with his secret recipe. However, knowing that I wasn’t living there, he was kind enough to offer some from the readymade mixture of spice powder, that he prepared for his recipe. He was generous, and his masala lasted almost an year, till my mom found a place which sold indigenous masala.

Repeated cooking over the years for friends and family has given enough expertise and repute of being able to cook what most taste buds recognise as good Nihari.

Now I can claim to have mastered the details of the difference between the maghaz nihari they make in Karachi and the nalli nihari that we Dilliwalas have in Delhi. (However, I wonder, if there was any difference in them, earlier).

And now that the froth of my ego has flattened quite a bit, I am able to accept the Karachi one as a different version of Nihari, which acquired its own distinct character after crossing the border.

Unfortunately, now in Delhi, even the Muslims residing outside purani Dilli do not seem to yearn for Nihari during the breakfast, while in Karachi, Nihari seems to have taken the place of a national dish which is available at any hour of the day and at every corner of the city. But it still manages to retain the tag of being a Delhi dish.

Interestingly, instead of suspecting some secret readymade masala, most of my kin and friends from Pakistan attribute ‘my’ Nihari flavour to my Dilliwala origins.

Even more interesting is the secret, that it was in Pakistan that I was made to realise for the first time that I was a Dilliwali. And thanks to the Dilliwala tag that was thrust upon me , I now love it and quite often brag about it.

PuraniDilli- sketch by Shilpa Wadhwa

Pied Piper of Denialistan

‘The abuse dies in a day, but the denial slays the life of the people, and entombs the hope of the race’.

Who would know the bitter effects of denial than I myself and still suffer from it’s guilt till date.
On visiting my parents in Delhi in July 1997, I clearly remember how my mom begged to me that she felt that my Papa wasn’t well and he needed a thorough cardiac check up. But my confident Papa, shooed her idea of an echocardiography . We went for a basic blood test which was all well.

Mom wasn’t convinced. Heeding her concern, I continued to watch my father  with a side gaze, off and on, to see if I could get a trace of any signs of being unwell in him. He was radiant as ever, and after all he was my Papa, and how can my Papa be wrong about his own health?

On the contrary we construed a conspiracy theory that Mom was going through Menopause, and was hence anxious and  unwell.

Twenty days after I left, I got the news that my Papa passed away, hale and hearty, while working on a computer, typing a chapter for his new book. He had a massive heart attack.

I have not forgiven myself ever since, for having lived in denial, to escape the harsh reality. Had I faced the truth head-on, life would have been different.

In a wider context, most human beings live in denial—with just the difference in the degree. We deny a thing and then wrap it in the garb of ‘conspiracy theory’.

On one extreme end, are those who deny Holocaust, the landing of man on Moon, the 9/11 incident, even the Abbotabad operation in which Osama Bin Laden was nabbed and killed. The other milder extreme are those who express “ We have stopped watching news because it is very depressing.” in an attemopt to not accept the day to day happenings around us.

But then the reasoning that we are endowed with in the neocortex, restores  the rational  thought s and we learn from our mistakes.

In Pakistan, one sees that denial has become a way of life. And we do not even learn lessons from those mistakes.

Most of us refuse to accept the problems of Pakistan as its own, and pass the buck on others—most favoured excuses being America, India.or if this doesn’t apply then we have the easiest scapegoats, the Ahmedis.  And then to forget not, the new villain in town,  the “hidden hand’ or the  “teesra haath’ which we hear so often. God knows what that is?

Twenty years ago when I was new to Pakistan, first ‘conspiracy theory’ I heard was that Pakistan’s big or small problems, even in the early 1990s, were because it wasn’t given the ‘right’ piece of land during partition owing to the love affair that Edwina had with Nehru, which influenced Lord Mountbatten’s decision..

Whenever anything untoward happened, in Pakistan, some of my ‘friends’ and kin, made sure that I knew that all that was happening was linked to India too, in some way or the other.

Last I remember being the PNS Mehran incident—in which a ‘friend’ of mine took pains to mail to me while I was visiting my mother in India that it all happened because of the involvement of RAW/Indian agents. The proof she had was that those men who came there were uncircumcised. I did not shock me, for I had heard the same explanation when the armed men had attacked the Sri Lankan team in Lahore.

And now enter the video of Amir Liaqat. It again shows the manifestation of the same ailment. . We all have a bit of double faced Amir Liaqat in us who has one face in public and another in private. Even if I wasn’t a fan of his, I would still have a corner of sympathy for the human Amir Liaqat who swore. But not after his following video of denial.

Despite of all the actions he does, including the mimicry of the Qawwali claps or the humming of “hum to thehray pardesi” Bollywood number sitting sandwiched between two Mullahs, majority of his fans are again ready to close their eyes of reasoning and follow him blind to call this ‘dubbed’ and a conspiracy against him by the Ahmedis. The support I saw ‘virtually’ on some of the facebook or twitter statuses and in passionate  ‘real’ discussions with ‘friends’,  is mindboggling. And worse still, most of his women supporters are blind and deaf towards the mockery he makes of the ‘nazuk’ ma’amla of  a girl being raped. Have their minds gone “ghass charney” ?

I have yet to come across a person, man or woman,  who previously followed him, was now changed.

Unfortunately nothing will change in terms of numbers.  In fact, those who called him Jahil on-line will continue to call him so, with more surety. While those who revere him as an Aalim will upgrade their reverence for him, and of all you know he might end up to be beatified after this incident, as a saint( aka Pir or Mujahid or whatever you chose to call) who is the victim of the ‘hassad’ of the liberals or the infidels.

Denial enmasse,  has become a “National Sickness”. And conspiracy theory is it’s outward symptom. This sickness has led to our demise as ‘thinking’ and ‘reasoning’ individuals to a large extent. Our brains have become the vestigial organs and it is the kneejerk reaction at the spinal level that  forms  our opinions.
So aptly has Meredith Grey summed up ‘denial’ :
Sometimes reality has a way of sneaking up and biting us in the ass. And when the dam bursts, all you can do is swim. The world of pretend is a cage, not a cocoon. We can only lie to ourselves for so long. We are tired, we are scared, denying it doesn`t change the truth. Sooner or later we have to put aside our denial and face the world. Head on, guns blazing. De Nile. It`s not just a river in Egypt, it`s a freakin` ocean. So how do you keep from drowning in it?

Needless to say, not just Amir Liaqat,  several Pied Pipers of Denialistan are out in the open, who have led and already drowned  a large chunk of us into the sea of ignorance.

I thought I’ll share this with you…

Insufficient rain, drought, civil war, religious extremism, escalating food prices, bored donors of the world are all responsible for the unprecedented situation that the famine of Horn of African has reached. A handful of bodies are striving to make a difference.

There are 13 million people at risk of dying from it. And like most calamities-natural or man made , the most vulnerable are the children.

Young children are dying on their way to or within a day of arrival at camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, There are more than 50% of Somali children arriving in Ethiopia are seriously malnourished. In Kenya, that figure is between 30% and 40%.( UNHCR).

I know we all are aware of the situation but perhaps the day to day issues, our own personal and public problems make us unable to look deeper into the problem.

Going through the routine news feeds, I came across some harrowing stories about the drought which chilled me to the bones and I felt extremely guilty for not being able to give it the due importance that I should.

The stories are numerous, but the most moving were related to the kids, which would be enough to shake our conscience. However I thought I’ll share some related to the children there….

“When Somali mother Eblah Sheikh Aden gathered her seven children and set off walking for Ethiopia to find food, she never imagined she would end up sending some of her brood back into the heart of famine.
“They were extremely sick and there wasn’t food here,” she told Reuters in the Kobe Camp in Ethiopia. “I couldn’t watch them die and had to make a decision.”
It took Eblah two days to walk to the camp but another nine days for her to be registered to stay, such are the numbers of sick and hungry streaming. (Yahoo News)).

A father carrying the dead body of his one month old son: “We had taken Addo to the clinic but he never recovered,” said Hasano, who had fled southern Somalia with his wife and his one month-old son. “I’m now looking for space to bury him,” he said, nearly an hour after Addo died from severe malnutrition.(Yahoo News).

In Dadaab, Kenya, a refugee Barwago Mohamud huddles silently beneath a few blankets stretched over sticks at night, fearing for her life after a neighbor was raped, and a naked woman who had been kidnapped and gang-raped for three days in front of her terrified children was delivered to the medical tent next door.
“What can we do?” Mohamud remarked. “Our neighbors have been raped at night. We are afraid. Some boys are helping watch at night in case of trouble but they also work during the day.”
And Mohamud, whose door is only a blanket draped on a stick, keeps her daughters close and dreads each sunset.(BBC)

“There is the story of Sahan who was on a bus coming over from Somalia when four gunmen stopped the vehicle. The women were ordered off and raped in the bush for three hours. She has not reported the rape because she was living far away from any medical services on the outskirts of the camp and did not want to leave her family. She asked her last name not be used to protect her privacy.” (BBC)

“Eyangan’s worry for her grandkids is constant. Four year-old Alemilemi is suffering from a protein deficiency illness, Kwashiorkor, stunted growth and malnutrition while his younger brother and follower Tipen is severely malnourished. Tipen is weak and tired from dehydration and hunger. “He has since given up on crying because he can only cry but there is no food to offer. I only gave him black tea just to stop him from crying,” Eyangan explains. (World Vision).

Now the news is that Tipen has died.

Along with these tragic stories about kids there is some tiny  ray of hope too.

An 11-year-old Andrew Andasi, a Ghanaian schoolboy has so far raised more than $500 (£300) for victims of the famine in Somalia.
He launched his campaign last week after watching footage of people walking in search of food.
He told the BBC he wanted to raise a total of $13m during his school holidays from private donations.
After a meeting with the UN World Food Programme Bank director in Ghana to ask for advice, Andrew set up a bank account for donations on Tuesday.
“I’m very very sure that I can raise it in just one month,” he told the BBC.
“I want individuals, companies, churches, other organisations to help me get 20m Ghana cedis.”

Said he:
“If I get the opportunity to go to Somalia I will talk and I will let the UN to make an announcement the warring groups in Somalia should stop because of the sick children and women,”

With these chilling stories of the famine, I wonder if our own stake holders of peace will ever learn any lesson.
Or maybe for them our floods are enough of a deterrent against famine on our land, hence, carry on the killing fields unabated.
I just wonder. .

(P.S. All the stories are simply copy-pasted the way I read them from various sources mentioned in the parenthesis.)

Why can’t most men understand this ?

Looking through the e-papers from the subcontinent, it is hardly ever a day when some incident of rape is not reported. Be it rape of a medical student near the bus stop in New Delhi,  a doctor on duty raped after being drugged in Dera Bugti, a minor girl raped by her dance teacher in Bombay, a girl partying with friends in the posh areas of Karachi, a woman gang raped on the order of a local jirga, in Muzaffargarh.

The scenarios differ, cities differ, but the crime remains the same. The mindset remains identical. Age is no bar. Infancy upwards, one finds all age groups being the victims.

Unfortunately this is one situation which sees no barriers of age, color, creed or class, the world over..

Rapes are on the rise in the subcontinent, too.

The statistics do the speaking here…

In 2010, 489 rape cases were reported in Delhi, India  while 459 in 2009.The figures given by Delhi Police reveal that a woman is raped every 18 hours or molested every 14 hours in the capital.

Similarly in Pakistan, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, estimates “every two hours a woman is raped in Pakistan and every eight hours a woman is subjected to gang-rape. Another report I came across claimed that at least 100 rapes are committed in Karachi alone everyday according to Additional Police Surgeon (APS. (

Needless to say,  majority are not even reported, and just a handful get punished, on either side of the border.

When this is the statistics of two megacities, one can fathom what would be the situation in the other places.

It was worse still to hear responsible men of these cities pass heartless judgements on rape and its victims..

In mid July, Commissioner of Police, Delhi advised women going out late night should be accompanied by a male or a driver, to avoid the risk of being raped.

I remember as a  child, in Delhi asking a friend of my fathers who was a senior police officer, ‘Uncle what do you do ?” And he had replied, “Beta, we protect you and others  in the city.” Probably he was just bluffing.

Almost at the same time , a video circulated on the social network,  in which Karachiite, Munawwar Hussain, the Emir of JI, in a TV interview, surpassed all these responsible individuals and commented that since bringing 4 witnesses for rape is next to impossible, it is better to ‘keep shut’ ones mouth and eyes, on the crime being committed. When the anchor attempted to argue, he simply totted at him the emotional gun of ‘denying’ the writing of Quran. The apathy in his talk and body language for the rape victim was appalling.

Not just our men, but their men also fail to understand…

A few months ago, a police officer from Toronto and a Russian priest from Moscow, had ‘advised’ that women should not “dress like sluts” or “wear miniskirts”, respectively, if they want to avoid rapes.

Not leaving behind  London in this race, Kenneth Clarke, the very justice secretary in UK, passed yet another piece of judgement that the rape committed by unknown offender is a ‘serious’ rape while implying that those committed while on a date isn’t. When the anchor interjected “rape is rape”, he replied: “No it is not”.

I wish all these men of responsibility knew the ‘secret’ of why the rapes occur?
It is certainly not because a woman was dressed so, or walked alone on the street late at night, or was attending a party with her friends. No certainly not. Rapes occur because some men want to rape. Yes it is that simple.

And why would these ‘some’ men want to rape ?
This has a simple answer too., Rape is the culmination of a series of systematic experiences that a boy is exposed to, from infancy to manhood—in which he is told, with or without so many words, that he is stronger, and a woman is not just weaker, but a commodity.

How I wish, more than anything else, these responsible people knew what does rape mean to a woman?
Rape is not merely the breach of a woman’s physical privacy, but is followed by cascade of short- and long-term problems, including physical injury and illness, psychological symptoms, economic costs, and death (National Research Council 1996).
In a summary, a rape victim is an embodiment of a severely disturbed and dysfunctional individual for rest of her life, unless properly rehabilitated.

So long as such a mindset persists, the legislation to punish rape would never be a deterrent.

We need to look towards primary prevention of this crime rather than just struggle for appropriate punishment after a case gets highlighted.

We have to empower our girls with ‘right information’ and break the barrier of rape being a taboo issue in front of these ‘innocent’ minds. It is these innocent minds which make them an easy prey.

A girl should be taught to be assertive. As one of the self help sites on rape prevention says: “ Look up as you walk and stand up straight; pretending as though you have two big panthers on either side of you as you walk may sound silly, but it can help boost confidence. Attackers are more likely to go for those who they think cannot defend themselves.”

They should also be told that over 90% of the perpetrators are known to the victims, even if it is an uncle, a cousin or a friend, if she feels the touch as uncomfortable, she must trust her gut and not let it continue.

Moreover, if we cannot change the mindset of our grown up men, we can at least guide our young sons to respect women and not consider them a commodity that is ‘available’.

Use of neo cortex, a sign of evolution, entails men to be able to restrain their behaviours and train their minds that nothing can be forced upon any woman, without her free will.

For those who cannot change their mindsets, a real need for harshest of punishments to the rapist as a mode of learning is mandatory too.

Till the healthier minds grow up, fear of punishment should be the real deterrent against this heinous crime.

Dr Ilmana Fasih.

A scene from the slutwalk in Delhi in July

National anthem of Pakistan

Pāk sarzamīn shād bād
Kishwar-e-hasīn shād bād
Tū nishān-e-`azm-e-`alīshān
Markaz-e-yaqīn shād bād

Blessed be the sacred land
Happy be the bounteous realm
Thou symbol of high resolve
O Land of Pakistan!
Blessed be thou centre of faith
Pāk sarzamīn kā nizām

Qaum, mulk, sultanat
Pā-inda tābinda bād!
Shād bād manzil-e-murād

The order of this sacred land
Is the might of the brotherhood of the people
May the nation, the country, and the state
Shine in glory everlasting!
Blessed be the goal of our ambition

Tarjumān-e-māzī, shān-e-hāl

The flag of the crescent and star
Leads the way to progress and perfection
Interpreter of our past, glory of our present
Inspiration of our future!
Shelter of God, the Glorious and Mighty

Written by: Hafiz Jallandhari, 1952
Composer:  Ahmed Ghulam Chagla in 1950
Fisrt played on Radio Pakistan : 13 August 1954.

Jana Gana Mana~Tagore

Jana gana mana ...the national anthem of India was written and composed by Rabindranath  Tagore in 1911.
It was first sung at the Calcutta Session of the Indian National Congress on 27 December 1911. Jana Gana Mana was officially adopted by the Constituent Assembly as the Indian national anthem on January 24, 1950.

There is a controversy that the poem was composed in December 1911, precisely at the time of the Coronation Durbar of George V, and is considered by some to be in praise of King George V and not God.
A British newspaper reported:
“The Bengali poet Babu Rabindranath Tagore sang a song composed by him specially to welcome the Emperor.” (Statesman, Dec. 28, 1911).

However, many historians aver that the newspaper reports cited above were misguided. The confusion arose in British Indian press since a different song, “Badshah Humara” written in Hindi by Rambhuj Chaudhary, was sung on the same occasion in praise of the monarch. The nationalist Indian press stated this difference of events clearly:-
The proceedings of the Congress party session started with a prayer in Bengali to praise God (song of benediction). This was followed by a resolution expressing loyalty to King George V. Then another song was sung welcoming King George V.” (Amrita Bazar Patrika, Dec.28,1911).

Even, Tagore himself in a letter mentioned:
“I should only insult myself if I cared to answer those who consider me capable of such unbounded stupidity as to sing in praise of George the Fourth or George the Fifth as the Eternal Charioteer leading the pilgrims on their journey through countless ages of the timeless history of mankind.” (Purvasa, Phalgun, 1354, p738.)

Jano Gano Mano Adhinaayako Jayo Hey,Bhaarato Bhaagyo Bidhaataa
Panjaabo Sindhu Gujaraato Maraathaa,Draabiro Utkalo Bango
Bindhyo Himaachalo Jamunaa Gangaa, Uchchhalo Jalodhi Tarango
Tabo Shubho Naamey Jaagey, Tabo Shubho Aashisho Maagey
Gaahey Tabo Jayogaathaa
Jano Gano Mangalo Daayako, Jayo Hey Bhaarato Bhaagyo Bidhaataa
Jayo Hey, Jayo Hey, Jayo Hey,Jayo Jayo Jayo, Jayo Hey

English Translation

Oh! the ruler of the minds of people, Victory be to You, dispenser of the destiny of India!
Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, Maharashtra,Dravida(South India), Orissa, and Bengal,
The Vindhya, the Himalayas, the Yamuna, the Ganges,and the oceans with foaming waves all around
Wake up listening to Your auspicious name, Ask for Your auspicious blessings,
And sing to Your glorious victory.
Oh! You who impart well being to the people!
Victory be to You, dispenser of the destiny of India!
Victory to You, victory to You, victory to You, Victory, Victory, Victory, Victory to You!


Rabindranath Tagore ~If they answer not to thy call WALK ALONE,

Rabindranath Tagore was a larger than life personality –  poet,  philosopher, playwright, novelist, essayist, painter, composer and educator.

He was the first non Europeon to get a  Nobel Prize in 1911, which he  received as Nobel Prize in Literature for his collection of poems which were initially written in Bengali, but later translated in English by himself.

He is the only person who has the honour of being the lyricist of National Anthems of two countries –namely Jana Gana Mana of India and Shonar Bangla of Bangladesh.

He translated Shakespeare from English to Bengali in his teens. He also translated 100 poems of  saint Kabirdas from Hindi to English in 1930s , hence familiarising Kabir as the most read Indian poet to the west in  those times.

Rabindranath Tagore, was knighted with the title of ‘Sir’ when he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911. However, after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1916, he gave up the knighthood in protest.

He, thrice, refused invitation to visit Canada in protest against the massacre of 376 native Indians in Komagat Maru incident in 1914. However, when he visited Canada at the invitation of National Council of Education to address at the triennial conference, Vancouver he made it a point to make his statement as follows:

“Canada must believe in great ideals. She will have to solve . . . the most difficult of all problems, the race problem.”

Tagore also had the opportunity to interact one on one with another ‘great’ of his times, namely Einstein. Their highly intellectual conversations are documented word to word. An  excerpt from the dialogue of one of the three meetings is as follows:

TAGORE: Melody and harmony are like lines and colors in pictures. A simple linear picture may be completely beautiful; the introduction of color may make it vague and insignificant. Yet color may, by combination with lines, create great pictures, so long as it does not smother and destroy their value. 
EINSTEIN: It is a beautiful comparison; line is also much older than color. It seems that your melody is much richer in structure than ours. Japanese music also seems to be so.

Y B Yeats another Nobel Laureatte oet who later wrote the Introduction of Tagore’s Geetanjili had the chance to read Tagore before he met him. He commented, ” I have carried these manuscripts with me for days, reading it in railway trains, on top of  omnibuses, inrestaurants and often had to close it lest some stranger see how much it moved me.”

Gandhi and Tagore’s differences are famous and still debated. While Gandhi started a non cooperation movement against the British, Tagore remarked,” …there was a thin line between nationalism and xenophobia —besides, hatred of the foreigner could later turn into a hatred of Indians different from oneself.”

He was particularly sceptical of the claim that non-co-operation had or would dissolve Hindu-Muslim differences. And ultimately Tagore was proved right on this issue.

The two  personalities met only twice, but kept a regular communication through articles and letters. And like two great human beings, they kept high regard for each other, despite differences.

Gandhi remarked:  “Gurudev and I early discovered certain differences of outlook between us. Our mutual affection has, however, never suffered by reason 0 f our differences … ” 

Another Nobel Peace Laureatte Aun San Su Kyi is another person who derives inspiration from Tagore. And claims her “most precious lesson” had been from Tagore: “If no one answers your call, walk alone.”( the above poem).

Apart from being a eastern mystic, Tagore was a visionary who articulated ideals of humanism, equality and freedom long before the League of Nations or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.  Tagore was  one of the strongest critics of war and colonialism, fascism, and the dangers of narrow-minded nationalism.

In the 1920s, he had already identified racism as the greatest problem in a fast globalizing world.

Perhaps looking at today’s world he was accurate in his prediction, sadly though. 

The following is a popular poem written by Rabindranth Tagore.  The music for the song was also composed by him.

Jodi Tor Dak Soone Keu Na Asse
Tobe Ekla Chalo re
Ekla Chalo Ekla Chalo Ekla Chalore

Jodi Keu Katha Na Kai Ore Ore O Abhaga
Jodi Sabai Thake Mukh Firae Sabai Kare Bhay
Tabe Paran Khule
O Tui Mukh Fute Tor Maner Katha Ekla Balo re

Jodi Sabai Fire Jai Ore Ore O Abhaga
Jodi Gahan Pathe Jabar Kale Keu Feere Na Chay
Tobe Pather Kanta
O Tui Rakta Makha Charan Tale Ekla Dalo re

Jodi Alo Na Dhare Ore Ore O Abhaga
Jodi Jharr Badale Andhar Rate Duar Deay Ghare
Tobe Bajranale
Apaan Buker Panjar Jaliey Nieye Ekla Jalo re

English translation: *Touching words*

If they answer not to thy call WALK ALONE,

If they are afraid and cower mutely facing the wall,
O you unfortunate,
open thy mind and SPEAK OUT ALONE.

If they turn away, and desert you when crossing the wilderness,
O you unfortunate,
trample the thorns under thy tread,
and along the blood-lined track TRAVEL ALONE

If they do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm,
O you unfortunate,
with the thunder flame of pain ignite thy own heart
and let it BURN ALONE.

Is there any difference ?

On the night of  14 /15 August 1947 apparently India and Pakistan parted their ways.

With due respect to their independent existence,  is there anything else that can part the two peoples who have the same history, same genetic pool, same climate, same mountains, same rivers, same culture, similar foods, similar fashions, similar aspirations, similar problems, and even similar patriotic songs?

Yeah, we have similar patriotic songs too.

Don’t believe it? Have a look :

And this :

So is there any difference ?

Just the names.

But what’s in a name ?


Footprints, theirs and ours

Published in two parts in  Dateline Islamabad  as an Op-Ed  on 12 and 13 August 2011

Part 1

AUGUST 7 was the 70th death anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, and I remember his Nobel winning poetry which begins thus:
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Incidentally, I found myself reading something similar in the spirit of this poem — Kamran Rehmat’s eloquent piece Meeting Jens Stoltenberg on the simplicity of Norwegian PM’s life and the minimal security he keeps (Dateline Islamabad, July 28). His rendezvous led me to the memory of the news in 1986, when Olof Palme was murdered while walking back from a cinema at night in Sweden.

“Prime Ministers walk back home?” — that was my instant reaction, then.
There is a reason why Nordic countries are considered the safest places to live. (I wonder if the recent Norwegian episode and its root cause will change that, but that’s beside the point here)

Reading through, one instantly compares them to the traffic standstills or detours one has to face when our politicians are passing.

The instant pop-up in my Third World mindset is — “Come on, those are developed nations and we are merely ‘developing’.”

It takes me back to what I gleaned from the movie The Last Emperor, in 1990, where they showed when the king passed through the streets of ancient China, the common man was asked to turn away their gaze  because their poor eyes weren’t worthy of seeing the emperor.

Perhaps, our politicians in power, too, are emperors in their own right, who live not in forts or castles by name — but their abodes are bedecked no less than castles and protected no less than fortresses. And the feet of the poor common man aren’t worthy
of treading the same street when the emperors pass through it.

But hold on.

I have two personal experiences from this very Third World where the high and mighty navigated with the same freedom and minimal security as the Norwegian or Swedish premiers.

One of them is none other than Mahathir Mohammed of Malaysia. (You might say that Malaysia is not much of a developing country but the reason why they have surged ahead is because of this very man about whom I will narrate a personal

My family had been visiting Malaysia as tourists in 2002. This is during the last days of Ramadan and we chose to travel to Malaysia to see how their
Muslims celebrated Eid.

On the day of the festival, we went to the Central Mosque in Kuala Lumpur for prayers. Not sure of the timings, we reached the mosque way early and  my husband and son sat in the very first row, right behind the imam.

Meanwhile, I settled with my daughter in the first row of women’s area — ensuring that our men folk were well in sight.

After an hour or so, when the mosque had been reasonably full — no mad rush, mind you — a few men walked up to the front rows and some others started to make way for them. My husband was asked to move a little to the side, which he did. But to his utter surprise, the man for whom his space was being vacated was none other than President Mahathir Mohammed.

Having seen that my husband gave space to him, Mahathir smiled at him. My husband stepped forward, shook hands with him and introduced himself as a Pakistani, who had come to see Eid festivities in Malaysia.

After the prayers, he again turned to my husband and invited him to visit Putrajaya (president’s residence) and partake the open feast which the president hosted each year for his compatriots.

Our joy had no bounds — we almost thought that we were invited to a personal lunch with the president.
After a few hours of strolling in the Eid bazaars in Bukit Bintang (street), listening to the beautiful melodies of Salamat Hariraya (Malaysian Eid greeting), we dressed in our best and headed for Putrajaya.

It was a huge congregation, with tents put up and thousands of Malaysians, of all ethnicities, in a picnic mood and enjoying the ethnic food the Malays serve
on Eid. (To continue)

 Part 2 : 

MY family and I arrived at the Putrajaya (president’s house) and were told by someone that this was the last time the open Eid feast, which enabled the commoners to meet the president, would be held as Mahathir Mohammed had announced to step down.

We saw what looked like a hopelessly long queue on one side of the tent, leading to a door. We were told this was for those who would like to meet the first couple and give their Eid wishes to them. We joined the queue.

My husband told one of the guards that we were from Pakistan and President Mahathir himself had invited us, in an attempt to jump the queue. But the policeman just gave a hospitable smile and no more, which was signal enough for us to stay in the queue. It was a two-hour wait and my kids used it to make a small card out of some paper envelope, with a blue ball point sketching a flag of Pakistan and an Eid greeting.

Finally, our turn came. We shook hands with the first couple and to our utter surprise, he himself told his wife, “They are Pakistanis and have come to see our Eid.”

My kids gave them the card. We hugged them, Pakistani-style and were handed a plastic Tiffin on top of which was inscribed “Thanks from Putrajaya” with traditional Malaysian sweets inside. We got exactly the same box as everyone else and approximately, the same two or three minutes of chat as other locals.

To cut a long story short, in a fortnight’s stay in Malaysia, we happened to meet their president twice, and that, too, without much difficulty.

The second incident was in Kolkata (then- Calcutta), in late 1979, when I had been visiting the city with my parents, who were attending some conference. My parents chose to commute in bus as that was the most convenient mode to travel in the overcrowded metropolis.

In the middle of one journey, my father turned our attention towards a lean and thin dhoti-clad man who had climbed the bus. That man was Jyoti Basu, who had become the chief minister of West Bengal, just a year or so ago.

My father mentioned it to some of his friends but they weren’t surprised, for it was common knowledge that Basu sometimes boarded buses just to stay connected with hoi polloi.

Basu continued to win the people’s confidence for the next two decades (from 1977 to 2000). A CPI(M) member, he went on to introduce land reforms, giving opportunity to the poor to have their own lands. He brought political stability to the state to the extent when the whole of India was burning— once after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 following the Operation Blue Star, and the other at the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, his administration did not allow any rioting in his state.

Hence, it was not just a coincidence that we saw these men roaming free in public — years of commitment for the common man had made them fearless.

With this chain of thoughts, my mind shifts to the recent switch on-and-off that goes on in the killing fields of Karachi. It does not need a vision of 6/6 to see who all are behind these killing fields.

By all I mean ALL — none is above it. I wonder, with this track record and with the mess that the stake holders of ‘peace’ create, can they have the courage to sail freely among their own public like Mahathir and Basu?

No wonder our streets from Islamabad to Karachi come to a standstill when they sail fearfully on them.

And tragically, it is the common man, who gets labeled as hateful, narrow-minded and divided on ethnic and sectarian lines.

In conclusion, I want to revert to the closing lines of Tagore’s poem, which may serve as a prayer to us:

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

The writer is a gynecologist, health activist,
and m-Health entrepreneur, of Indian origin,
married to a Pakistani

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