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Farewell To My Friend Dr. Syed Fasihuddin

Aah it was a 36 years of friendship in total with 30 years of marital association of two people of opposite personalities.
Fasih was quiet, gentle yet nerves of steel, living in the moment and a fearless risk taker. And despite being not too talkative, he was a people’s person, and a helper.
I am, as always expressive, explosive, yet a loner, super cautious bordering to being fearful, never living or enjoying the present, mind always planning 5 years ahead.
Yet for some weird reason we clicked very well. And clicked so much that both of us did not need to change our personalities. I learned from Fasih how to give space to the other partner. He let me be me and certainly wanted me to let him be him.
But the fearless risktaker that he was, I tried my best to be a check on him. But I always failed. And he always proved me wrong.

Whether it was his decision to marry an Indian and the practical challenges related to it. (This is another story, that deserves another memoir).
Or refusing to hand over his wallet on gunpoint at Sharei Faisal( Karachi) traffick jam in rain and handing that boy a brown envelope with patties saying, “I don’t keep wallet, eat this it must be hard work as there are so many cars.”
he guy remarked, “Fauji lagtey ho is liye itni himmat dikha rahe ho.”(You look an armed forces man and hence being so daring). And the boy walked to the next car.
Or whenever we travelled, which were very frequent, he would leave at the nick of time, despite my cries to keep some margin of time, speeding to reach on time. Once when we were travelling from Makkah to Jeddah airport to catch PIA flight for Karachi, the car’s tyre burst and we ended up reaching airport 2 hours late when the counter was closed and they were wrapping the list.
Fasih went straight to the manager desk, who was Manzoor Junior ( A Pakistani Hockey Olympian). He was very angry.
Fasih said, “Sir tyre got burst.”
He replied, “Yes this is an old excuse.”
He was not in a mood to listen to Fasih’s pleas. He then touched the chin of Manzoor Sb, “Sir aap hockey bahut achi kheltey the.” (Sir you played awesome hockey.)
Manzoor SB got even angrier and yet said, “No. Sorry.”
Fasih them told him, “Sir aap tou 1984 olympic team ke captain they. Sir, gold medal bhi mila tha….” (Sir you were the captain of 1984 Olympic Team. You even got the Gold Medal).
Manzoor Junior laughed and told his staff….“Inko toilet ke pass wali jo khali seat hai woh issue ker do. Family for peeche wali row de dou.”
(Give him the empty seat near toilet and the row behind to the family).

I wanted to travel Egypt, as it from his Egyptian experience and stay that inspired my father to name me Ilmana. Fasih suggested we drive by car all along River Nile from Luxor to Alexandria in Egypt, even though there were some news Muslim Brotherhood’s recent surgence in Upper Egypt in 1996/1997. I dreaded and he said, “With two toddlers car journey is the safest journey.”
In the area of Asyut, half way through, the Egyptian Army stopped us. “Pakistani?What are you doing here?”
Fasih replied, “Long drive along Nile al Gameel.” (River Nile, the beautiful)
The armed forces guys were so cordial, they drove ahead of us all along 1200km or more, proudly stopping to show us the historical points. And Fasih said, “See we have free guides. You just fear for no reason.”

Or when he gave up his lucrative job abroad to build a hospital in Karachi Pakistan, when target killing of doctors were at its peak in the city. I lived those years with my heart in my throat. I owe this to one of his politician friends who suggested to him, “Fasih bhai at least in haalaat mein bachon ko tou mut Karachi laao.” (Fasih bhai at least in these risky times dont bring your kids to Karachi). So my kids and I came to Canada in 2009.

In the middle or all forms of corruption and bribery in Pakistan he wanted to do good work. So for approval of his hospital plan, confronting the Director General of Karachi Building Control Authority, KBCA (who is now a fugitive for corruption) in his polite affirmness Fasih demanded, “I want to make a quality healthcare setup that provides honest and ethical care in Karachi but I dont have any money to give bribe. I am a salaried man, not a builder.”
And imagine the miracle, the man famous for not sparing a penny of bribe relented saying, “Pray for me in Haram”.
Fasih then took out a box of Ajwa dates as a reward for him. With his mild sense of humor, he came out smiling from the Director’s office saying, “This ajwa dates will control his hypoglycemia for not have got any bribe.”
He was famous in Building Control( KBCA) that, “ye doctor tou kangla hai.” (This doctor is a pauper). And Fasih enjoyed his nickname.

When we inaugurated the dream of his life, Taj Clinics( now Taj Consultants Clinics) he named after his mother Tajunnisa, and realized the hard work wasn’t yet over and it was now a 14 hour per day job, with no vacations, no salary, not even a car for first 2 years of the startup.
I often joked to him, “Deewane tou pehle hi the, ab aur tarah ki deewangi hai.” (Crazy you were already, now this is another level of craziness).
He just laughed and retorted, “Zindagi kya hai jaanne ke liye, Karachi mein rehna bahut zaroori hai.” (To know what living means, you must experience living in Karachi).
He did not regret for a single minute the U-turn his life had taken from a high salaried Consultant luxurious life in the Middle East, to a life in Karachi far from family, with no rest, no money and loads of sweat, loadshedding, manipulations, navigating a thororughly corrupt system for every paperwork, and most of all never ending expenses in newly begun Taj Consultants Clinics.

At our inauguration of Taj Consultants Clinics on April 5, 2015

In 30 years there must have been 100s of such incidents when I feared but he just kept taking risks but with a belief that he is not doing anything unfair or unjust. And that this is the right way and nothing good happens by being fearful. He kept proving my fears wrong.

Last pic together near Niagara Falls on May 11, 2020

He came for a 2 week spring break to us in Mississauga on March 1, 2020. With blessing in disguise due to lockdown and no flights he got stranded here with us for 10 weeks. He travelled back to Pakistan on May 15, 2020, despite our pleas to not go, as I feared he will risk his life in COVID 19 as a Pulmonologist in a madhouse called Karachi. He said he has his patients, his staff that needs to be paid salary before Eid ( May 23, 2020) and,
“I can’t hide from what I am trained to do. My patients will die. I promise I will be safe.”
He started his Chest Clinic at Taj Consultants Clinics on May 25 and saw tens of patients each day with at least a quarter of them were clinically COVID 19. He used to tell me with frustration that many of them are negative on tests and they refuse to accept and to be referred to COVID Centres. On asked to be tested from a relaible lab one man even said, “Sir I have 3 daughters. How can I label myself COVID 19.”
And I kept worrying yet praying and nagging him across oceans, as usual, to follow strict precautions, PPE and SOPs knowing this time too I will be proven wrong.
But this was not meant to be. And as I always told him, “If any risk goes wrong, we wont get a second chance
Last he saw on Friday 19 after which he developed fever and isolated himself. He was admitted on Sunday. Alas, Fasih lost his battle to COVID 19 on Friday 26 June 2020.

Hisaab e umr ka buss itnaa sa goshwaara hai,
Tumhein nikaal ker dekha tou buss khasara hai
(This is the mere calculation in the ledger of my life,
If I see excluding you, it is nothing but a total loss).

Farewell My Friend


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:


I came across a few pieces of poetry too on pollution.
Here is one by:


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 don’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:

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. 😦
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:

Story #4: Girl Refugees


is a social enterprise that creates digital talking comics based on true stories and raises awareness on the triumphs and struggles of common individuals.
We will be bringing digital stories based on or adapted from true stories, highlighting an important social issue in each story.

Story #4: Girl Refugee


Girl Refugees  is a fictional story  on female feticide i.e. the termination of pregnancy when it is a girl child.

There are 50 million girls missing in the world due to female feticide.
Girls who are lost in the womb have no voice of their own.

This story is an attempt to give them the voice, and to make people realize, what if they were allowed to live a life everyone deserves.
Imagine as if you are hearing their pain from the skies !

Who remembers this 9/11?

On 9/11, 1973, somewhere in some remote corner of the world,  where too humans live, called Chile and which had a democratically elected President Salvadore  Allende in power, the following events occurred:

At 7:00 AM the Navy of Chile itself,  captured the port town of Velpraiso, strategically stationing ships and marine infantry in the central coast and closed radio and television networks.

By 8:00 AM, the Army had closed most radio and television stations in Santiago city; the Air Force bombed the remaining active stations

At 8:30 AM, when the armed forces declared their control of Chile and that Allende was deposed,

By 9:00 AM, the armed forces controlled Chile, except for the city centre of the capital, Santiago.

President Allende was informed of the coup. He refused to step down, and insisted on staying in the Presidential palace La Moneda. The military declared they would bomb the palace. The president was advised by his Socialist party to escape, but he refused. Even the Military tried to negotiate with him to resign, but he did not accept to step down. Finally, amidst air and ground offensive going on in the country, the President began a farewell speech in which he vowed to die rather than leave. And finally in the presence of two doctors, he killed himself with an AK47 rifle inside the La Moneda palace. All that was announced by the coup instigators was: “Allende commited suicide and is dead now.”

After the coup, Augusto Pinochet came to be the ruler of military led rule in Chile. He went on to rule Chile from 1978 till 1990. And history is witness that his was one of the most fascist regimes with severe human rights violations, the world had seen.

Only 60 people died on September 11, 1973 as a result of the coup de’tat. But what followed as a result of Pinochet’s dictatorship, is no secret to the world.
As described by the President of an eminent Human rights group :

He shut down parliament, suffocated political life, banned trade unions, and made Chile his sultanate. His government disappeared 3,000 opponents, arrested 30,000 (torturing thousands of them) … Pinochet’s name will forever be linked to the Desaparecidos, the Caravan of Death, and the institutionalized torture that took place in the Villa Grimaldicomplex.
”~ Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation, National Review.

It is documented that:
“ U.S. provided material support to the military regime after the coup, although criticizing it in public. A document released by the CIA in 2000, titled “CIA Activities in Chile”, revealed that the CIA actively supported the military junta after the overthrow of Allende and that it made many of Pinochet’s officers into paid contacts of the CIA or U.S. military, even though some  were known to be involved in human rights abuses.”  mentions Wikepedia.

With due respect to the victimes of 9/11, 2001 and all those who have died as a result of terrorism all round the globe ever since,  I quote an American Richard Clarke:

‎”We invaded a country, Iraq, that had nothing to do with the attack on us, but had everything to do with the preconceived plans of a cabal in and out of our government. In the process, we killed 100,000, wounded many times more, and threw millions out of their homes. More Americans suffered violent deaths in Iraq than did on 9/11, and multiples more were scarred for life.”

This event was what Naom Chomsky calls the ‘First 9/11’.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high.

Just yesterday was the 70th death anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, and I remember his Nobel winning poetry which begins as :
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high”

Incidentally, today I found myself reading something similar in  spirit of this poem while , enjoying  Kamran Rehmat’s eloquent note  on simplicity of the office of Norwegian PM and the minimal security he keeps.(Kamran Rehmat is  a Pakistani newspaper editor based in Islamabad, who’s writings  are like a new lesson in English language, and each time  leaves one richer in vocabulary).

His note led me to the memory  of the news in 1986, when Olof Palme, was murderd while walking back from a cinema at night, in Sweden. Prime Ministers walk back home, was my reaction then. There is reason why Nordic countries are considered as the safest places to live on Earth. (I wonder if the recent Norwegian incident and it’s  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 politicans 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 the peice of knowledge I gained from a movie called The Last Emperor, in 1990,  where they showed that 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 arent worthy of treading  the same street when the emperors  pass through it.

But hold on.

I suddenly remember two personal experiences from this very  Third World where their persons in authority navigated with  same freedom and with minimal security as the Norwegian or Swedish PMs.

One of them is none other than Mahathir Mohammed of Malaysia. ( You might just say, that of course Malaysia not all that a developing country. But the reason why they have gone far ahead is because of this very man about whom I will narrate a personal anectode.)

We had been visiting Malaysia as tourists in 2002 . It was the last days of Ramadan and we  chose to travel to Malaysia to see how their Muslims celebrate Eid.On the Eid day we went to the Central Mosque in Kuala Lampur for the Eid 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’s seat. While I settled with my daughter in the first row of women’s area , ensuring that our men were well in our sight.

After an hour or so, when the mosque had been reasonably full, ( no mad rush), a few men walked upto the front rows and some others staretd to make place 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 place was being vacated was none other than the President Mahathir Mohammed. Having seen that my husband gave place to him, he smiled at him. So my husband stepped forward, shook hands with him and introduced himself as a Pakistani who had come to see the Eid in Malaysia.

After the prayers, he again turned to my husband and told him, to visit his place called Putrajaya ( president’s residence) and join 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 on the Eid bazars in  Bukit Bintang (street), listening to the beautiful melodies of Salamat Hariraya( that’s Malaysian way of saying Eid Mubarak) we dressed our best and headed for Putrajaya.

It was a huge congragation there, 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. We were told by someone that this was the last time this would be held as Mahathir Muhammed has announced to step down,  and  he wouldnt be there next Eid.

We saw a horrendously long queue lined up 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. Living upto the Pakistani style, my husband told one of the gaurds that we are from Pakistan, and the President himself had invited us, in an attmept that this would help us jump the queue. But the policeman just gave a hospitable smile,  his eyes speaking to us to stay put in the queue.

It was a two hour wait, and my kids used it well to make a small card out some  paper envelope, with a blue ball point drew a flag of Pakistan and wrote an Eid card for them.

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.” Kids gave them the card. We hugged them in a Pakistan Eid greeting. We were handed over a plastic tiffin box on top of which “Thanks from Putrajaya” while the inside had  Malaysian sweets. We got exactly the same box as everyone else, and roughly the same two or three minutes of chat as other locals.

In Summary, in our two weeks stay in Malaysia, we happened to meet  their President twice, and that too without much difficulty.( Not to speak of how many times we have bumped into any of ours in the whole life).

The second incident was in 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 an overcrowded Calcutta.

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

My father mentioned it to some of his friends, but they weren’t surprised, for this was common knowledge that he sometimes boarded the bus just to stay connected with the poeple who elected him.

And then this man carried on to be the elected ChiefMinister of West Bengal for next two decades ( from 1977 TO 2000).  A CPI(M) member, he went on to make land reforms giving opportunity to the poor to have their own lands. He brought political stability to the state and so much so that when the whole of India was burning twice– once after Indira Gandhi’s death in 1984, and the other at the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, his heavy handed administration did not let any rioting in his state.

As Wickepedia quotes, “West Bengal became an oasis of communal harmony and secular values under his leadership”
Although a CPI (M) member, in an obituuary published by BBC on his death in 2010, it remarked:
“A Fabian Socialist rather than an orthodox Communist, Jyoti Basu worked by consensus, successfully managing coalitions, while showing a healthy respect for the viewpoints of others.”

“He made Communism look respectable,” according to Sabyasachi Basu Roy Choudhuri, a Calcutta-based political analyst.
Analyst Ashis Chakrabarti said Mr Basu’s success indicated social democracy had a future that Communism did not .

Hence, it was not just a coincidence that we saw these men roaming free in public, there were years of commitment, and hard labour for the common man, which made them be  so fearless.

With racing chain of thoughts, my mind shifts to the recent switch on and off, that goes on in Karachi’s killings. 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 gather the audacity to sail freely among their own public like the above men.

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 recieves the blame of being labelled hateful, narrowminded and divided on ethnic or sectarian lines.

I close this note with 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.”

Ilmana Fasih

Tell me why?~Music Without borders

This post is dedicated to these beautiful little angels who could be our role models and teach us lessons in many many ways.

Childhood is the world of miracle or of magic: it is as if creation rose luminously out of the night, all new and fresh and astonishing. Childhood is over the moment things are no longer astonishing. When the world gives you a feeling of “déjà vu,” when you are used to existence, you become an adult.
~Eugene Ionesco.

Singer: Declan John Galbraith (born 19 December 1991). More than his own country, Englnd, he is famous in China, where his songs were chosen as part of the Chinese education curriculum for learning English. Galbraith’s songs are used to help Chinese children learn English as his songs are easy to remember and suitable for children.
He was not even 14 when he sang this song.
Tell me why?

In my dream children sing a song of love for every boy and girl
The sky is blue and fields are green and laughter is the language of the world
Then I wake and all I see is a world full of people in need

Tell me why (why) does it have to be like this?
Tell me why (why) is there something I have missed?
Tell me why (why) cos I don’t understand.
When so many need somebody we don’t give a helping hand.
Tell me why?

Everyday I ask myself what will I have to do to be a man?
Do I have to stand and fight to prove to everybody who I am?
Is that what my life is for to waste in a world full of war?

Tell me why (why) does it have to be like this?
Tell me why (why) is there something I have missed?
Tell me why (why) cos I don’t understand.
When so many need somebody we don’t give a helping hand.
Tell me why?

(children) tell me why? (declan) tell me why?
(children) tell me why? (declan) tell me why?
(together) just tell me why, why, why?

Tell me why (why) does it have to be like this?
Tell me why (why) is there something I have missed?
Tell me why (why) cos I don’t understand.
When so many need somebody we don’t give a helping hand.

Tell me why (why,why,does the tiger run)
Tell me why (why why do we shoot the gun)
Tell me why (why,why do we never learn)
Can someone tell us why we let the forest burn?

(why,why do we say we care)
Tell me why (why,why do we stand and stare)
Tell me why (why,why do the dolphins cry)
Can some one tell us why we let the ocean die ?

(why,why if we’re all the same)
tell me why (why,why do we pass the blame)
tell me why (why,why does it never end)
can some one tell us why we cannot just be friends?

Personal Note: Few things in life have made me cry like a kid, and this song was one of them.

Arduous Journey for Tender Feet

In the poorest communities around the world, women and girls walk to collect water, firewood or other basic necessities of life. They walk on average 6 kilometres a day – 8,000 steps while carrying the equivalent of a suitcase. This leaves little time to attend school, access health services or earn money to support their family.

Women are largely responsible for collecting and managing water resources in developing countries, especially in rural areas, reports from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) show. Without a ready source of freshwater they may have to walk for several hours every day to find it. The U.N. estimates that 1.2 billion people lack access to safe water and about 2.5 billion are without access to proper sanitation.It is common for girls in rural areas of the world to drop out of school, so as to help carry out the burden of moving water. Girls as young as ten contribute to household tasks. Eventually, they miss classes and lag behind enough in school to abandon their education.
Collecting wood from forests for fuel is a difficult task that falls largely on the shoulders of the world’s women. A survey found that collecting firewood was one of the greatest burdens for many women and that it had a significant impact on their quality of life (Green & Erskine, 1998; 1999). .Pic credits: Basankusu collecting firewood by Francis Hannaway
Collecting firewood is extremely tiring as the women often have to walk long distances in search of wood which then has to be carried back to the homestead. Rural Tanzanian women, for example, walk 5-10 km a day collecting firewood, carrying loads between 20kg – 38kg. In rural India, the average is over three hours each day. The time-consuming nature of this task often causes young girls to be kept out of school. Girls going for firewood collection have been known to be subjected to sexual abuse too (UNDP).

Would their life be the same if they had the opportunity to be educated like YOU and me?

Educated girls grow into women who tend to have healthier and better nourished babies, who most likely will do everything to have their own children attending school as well, thus breaking the vicious cycle of poverty. Educated girls can better protect themselves against HIV, trafficking and abuse.

Educating a girl also means that as a woman, she is empowered and more likely to participate in development efforts and in political and economic decision-making. Women who went to school usually manage to increase the household income. The advantages of girls’ education thus do not stop at the boundaries of a single child, but ripple through families, communities, and nations.

Oh God! I Know you I Met with you Once Upon a Dream

One day in my dream, I went into a garden whose beauty and magnificence my eyes hath never ever seen or imagined. To give a poor description—there were streams of sparkling crystal water, lined with camps of pearls over the soil of musk. The grass blades were laced with emeralds and inflorescence of rubies hanging from the trees. I wondered where was I ?

A voice came from behind—“Don’t be wonderstruck, you are in Heaven”.

I turned back and a flash of image beyond description smiled back: Hi I am God. Welcome to the future abode of mankind.”

Though in absolute awe, I gathered courage to ask: “God can you spare some time to talk ?”
( wondering if I could ask Him some questions which puzzle my mind.)
“My time is eternity and enough to do anything. Do not worry and ask all those questions that boggle your mind.” Pat came the reply.

I knew as He could read my mind—for sure he was God.

With courage I began: “I know when Gabriel first saw the Heavens, he had wondered ‘the road to the heaven is littered with hardships, and By your Dignity, I am afraid if anyone would be able to enter it.?”(Tirmizi).

God replied: “There is only one path to Heaven. On Earth, you call it Love.
‘Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.’ “(Dalai Lama)

“By your Dignity, God there is hardly any compassion in this world now. All we see is misery and hatred. Will there be anyway mankind can enter this magnificient Heaven?” I asked.

God: “ Yeah I wonder that too. ‘My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, WAR, banished from the earth.” (George Washington )
“Not just heavens, Mankind is not likely to salvage civilization (on Earth) unless he can evolve a system of good and evil which is independent of heaven and hell.’ “(George Orwell ). He explained.

“Sir, did you make mankind with the way he is behaving, in mind?”

God answered in a disappointed voice: “No, not at all. I really wonder at mankind on how:
*He lives as if he will never die and dies as if he has never lived.
*He spends his health to gain money and then all his money to regain the lost health.
*He whines for the past, worries for the future and as a result spoils his present.
*And worst of all in this race to live, the mankind has lost compassion for each other.”

“What is compassion, God?”, I asked.

“Compassion is the capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too. If you cannot be compassionate through actions, be compassionate through words.”

“Words?”, I wondered.

He replied: “A careless word may kindle strife.
A cruel word may wreck a life.
A timely word may level stress.
But a loving word may heal and bless.”

He gave a long gloomy pause after saying that, and as I placed my hands over His to comfort Him, He held them tight, speaking nothing.

To cheer Him up and to break the melancholic silence I asked: Okay but what is the thing in your creation that hasn’t really disappointed you?

Without a pause he replied: “The Mother, yes she hasn’t disappointed me. I could not be everywhere, so I created mother.” ( Jewsih Proverb)

“Why does she make you so proud?”

 “‘Mother is another word for selflessness and sacrifice. ‘Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of little children.’ (William Makepeace Thackeray)
‘A mother gives a child, first, roots to grow strong and attaches herself to the existence of her child, and then lets him learn to grow wings to fly away with success.’ “

‘And what else would you advice Mothers to teach their kids?’,I asked.

He answered;
“The kids should be taught not to value what you have in your life, but who you have.
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. (Dalai Lama)
Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind. “(Albert Schweitzer )

“Out of all the blessings that you have bestowed upon Mankind, what do you think should he value the most?”

“Friends.” he said.
“If out of all mankind one finds a single friend, he has found something more precious than any treasure, since there is nothing in the world so valuable that it can be compared to a real friend.”(Andreas Capellanus)
He elaborated further: “The best kind of friend is the kind you can sit on a porch swing with, never say a word, and then walk away feeling like it was the best conversation you’ve ever had.”

“And what virtue should we value the least?”

“Wealth, ”  came without a pause.
“Can wealth give happiness? Look around and see, what gay distress! what splendid misery! Whatever fortunes lavishly can pour, the mind annihilates and calls for more. “(Andrew Young).
“Money is the worst currency that ever grew among mankind. This sacks cities, this drives men from their homes, this teaches and corrupts the worthiest minds to turn base deeds.” (Sophocles)

“Do you have any regrets for having created the Mankind?” I dared to ask, fearfully and  slowly.

He did not feel offended, instead replied with a sad tone : “Well I regret having given mankind the mind to think, because he has abused his mind more than putting it to use. He has abused the intelligence to make weapons, warfare to destroy mankind, and has used his knowledge to misuse the resources of the mother Earth—leaving it a miserable place for the future generations.” 

“So you must be hating Mankind now for how he has betrayed himself and the earth—both being your creations?”

“No dear, how can I hate something I created with my own free wil l? Yes I do despise a word called God.” 

“Lord, but isn’t that your own name you despise so much?” I could not hide my shock.

“Unfortunately yes. And all for the hatred that the mankind spreads in My Name, the suicide bombings, the killings, the discrimination that people are subjected to because they use my different names. I never asked anyone to use My Name to seek war for their personal agendas. I feel hurt and broken by all this bloodshed. I feel betrayed in My Name.”

My head hung in shame for how much have we hurt our own creator and continue to do so. And then think that we are doing a great service for HIM. I did not have the courage to ask him anything more. I did not even have the face to look towards him to Thank HIM and say a Bye.

Alas! I had no strength to ask him anymore.

Being God, He knew what else I wanted to ask and had reserved  for the last. As I turned away, he answered my unasked question:

My advice to mankind would be:
“To dream anything that you want to dream. That’s the beauty of the human mind. To do anything that you want to do. That is the strength of the human will. To trust yourself to test your limits. That is the courage to succeed.”(Bernard Edmonds)

And Finally to convey to the fellow beings on Earth from my behalf :
“Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his creatures, peace is your gift to each other.” (Elie Wiesel )

While walking away, I thought, ” I have saddened Him so much.  Will I ever be able to face Him again ?”

I heard again, a voice coming from the back:

“Anytime, I’m always near you . All you have to do is ask for me. And I shall answer.”

And I woke up, wishing that the whole Humanity woke up too.

Lost Deep into the Night Sky

One fine and free evening
Lying in a hammock swinging
Away from the madding crowds
Floating with the snowy clouds
Softly sailing at the cloud’s pace
Dreaming to be in a peaceful place.

I couldn’t help but in wonder sigh
While gazing high into the sky
Digging deep with my bare eyes
Into the depth of boundless skies

Trying to dissect every detail
Of infinite mysteries that prevail
Into the universe’s vast galore
That lies beyond the veil azure.

Crowded with the twinkling stars
Screaming aloud–Universe is ours.
Saturn, Jupiter, Venus or Mars
Glowing with pride as superstars
Making me feel indeed so small
For having abused the Earth- after all.

The stars strolled across the sky
As hours and hours just flew by
And then as if the curtain was drawn
With streaks of lights, signalling the dawn.

The sky’s face changed its shade
As the King Sun began to invade
Again into its Kingdom old
Marking its territory with rays of gold.

With it was gone the universe’s beauty too
Which had mesmerized me all night through.
And then I was back into this insane life
That just has in store struggle and strife

Our Solar Bubble and Beyond

Picture Courtesy NASA.

Words of Wisdom

“In my own view, the important achievement of Apollo was a demonstration that humanity is not forever chained to this planet, and our visions go rather further than that, and our opportunities are unlimited.”
~Neil Armstrong, 1999

“Since, in the long run, every planetary civilization will be endangered by impacts from space, every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring–not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive… If our long-term survival is at stake, we have a basic responsibility to our species to venture to other worlds.”
~Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

“I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I’m an optimist. We will reach out to the stars.”
~Stephen Hawking, interview with Daily Telegraph, 2001

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