Feb 25, 2009

Total Recall

By Dr A Q Khan

Pictures of the ignominious defeat and surrender of the Pakistan Army on 16th December, 1971 in Dacca is something I would like to erase from my memory. 

Yaade maazi azaab he yarab 
Chhin le mujh se haafiza mera.

However, one memory I would never like to forget is that of my school days. These are such pleasant memories and still so fresh, so joyful, as if they happened only yesterday. Whenever I am alone, I sit in my chair, close my eyes and relax and go back 65 years to the time I was a student at Ginnori Primary School in Bhopal. My father was head master/superintendant of high schools in the Central Provinces (CP) in British India before his retirement. 

First a few words about Bhopal. Bhopal was a Muslim State in the heart of the Indian sub-continent. It had a population of about 700,000 and an area of about 7,000 square kilometres. It could quite rightly be called the Switzerland of India. There were dense forests, rivers, high mountains and an abundance of wildlife like tigers, leopards, bears, crocodiles, deer, sambhar, nilgae, wild dogs, peacocks and many different kind of birds. It is situated at the crossing of the main Delhi-Bombay and Amritsar-Calcutta railway lines – hence a very important railway junction. There were seven man-made lakes in Bhopal State, one of them being the largest in undivided India. All the lakes were full of fish and shrimps. In my young days, it was not uncommon for tigers, leopards and bears to be sighted hardly five to six kilometres from the city centre. Bhopal city was built on hilly terrain and cyclists often had to get off their bicycles because the slopes were so steep. It was also famous for its beautiful mosques (there being at least one every 200 yards) and the number of huffaz (who used to travel throughout Central India to lead tarawih prayers during Ramazan). Last but not least, Bhopal had the best hockey team in undivided India. Who has not heard of Anwar, Habib, Aziz and Latif, all famous Olympians. 

Out of the total population, hardly 25% were Muslim, the remainder being Hindus and local Gonds and Bheels. Muslims were in the majority in the cities of Bhopal and Sehore. The police force and small local army were also mainly Muslims. Businessmen and government officials were of mixed religion/descent. There was complete harmony between all segments of the population. It was a relatively well-to-do state – there was no unemployment and there were no beggars. The Muslim rulers and Muslim population were of Pathan descent. After the death of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, his empire disintegrated and the governor (Qiledar) of the large mughal fort at Raisen, about 20 km. from Bhopal city, declared his independence. After some time Rani Kamlapati gave him Bhopal State in gratitude for his help in avenging the murder of her beloved husband by a neighbour. Dost Muhammad Khan, the first ruler, was from Tirah in NWFP and this brought about the influx of Pathans. All this happened early in the 18th century. My mother's family came from Tirah while my father's family came from Ghore with Sultan Shahabuddin Ghori. 

Now here is something for those who are burning girls' schools and colleges to think about! After Sardar Dost Muhammad Khan's death in 1740, five ladies ruled Bhopal. Maji Mamola, wife of Nawab Yar Muhammad Khan, successor to Sardar Dost M. Khan, ruled as regent for their daughter, Qudsia Begum. After Qudsia Begum came Sikander Begum, Shah Jehan Begum and Sultan Jehan Begum. These enlightened (lady) rulers turned Bhopal State into a modern, prosperous, welfare state. They all spoke fluent Persian and Urdu and had learnt some English as well. They established a large number of schools, both for boys and girls, and provided free education. Nawab Sultan Jehan Begum made generous donations to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan for the establishment of Aligarh Muslim University and had the distinction of being its first Chancellor. After her death her son, Nawab Hameedullah Khan, who had graduated from Aligarh, was chosen as the Chancellor. Had those ladies not been educated, had they not encouraged education, both for boys and girls, I would probably have been no more than a kharkar, a cobbler or stone breaker. 

There were separate schools for boys and girls. My mother taught us at home. My wife helped our daughters with their homework and now our daughters are helping our granddaughters. If you don't educate your girls, you leave out half your population, you prevent them from becoming better wives and mothers, from being able to cope in case of the death of a parent or husband, from learning about Islam, health, nutrition, etc, from contributing to society and much more. Without the encouragement mothers can give, many children, even boys, would drop out of school, leading to an even higher rate of illiteracy. How then could we possibly progress as a nation? You are not only holding back women, you are holding back the nation. 

About education today, I am aware of the large number of reports, articles, suggestions, recommendations, etc. by various committees about the type of education we are supposed to have in our schools. I won't go into numbers, statistics, literacy rate, etc. There are already hundreds of such papers collecting dust in many cupboards. My view is that, first and foremost it is imperative to enforce a uniform school system throughout the country. Each province should have its provincial language as a compulsory subject. I would like to look back at my own schooling as I believe it was successful in the formation of my career and life and is still applicable and useful for our children today. In the first two years of primary school we were taught the basics of Urdu, elementary arithmetic, Quran, Islamiat and writing. From class III on serious studies began in Urdu, arithmetic, Islamiat and English. As we progressed depth was added to the existing subjects and others were added – history of the Indian sub-continent, British history, European history, geography of the Indian sub-continent, world geography, English grammar and composition, etc. 

In middle school, Persian or Arabic, and algebra and geometry were added. In classes IX and X we were taught anatomy and physiology and given a choice between physics and chemistry or botany and zoology. By this time we were reading selections in prose and poetry covering the works of Shakespeare, Byron, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Tagore, Bertrand Russell and so on. By the time we passed high school, we were quite well versed in all the subjects covered. We were able to write both Urdu and English quite well. 8 years of studying English left us free from any inferiority complex on that score. The best thing about this system was that we were not estranged from our own cultural heritage. In Urdu we read all the famous poets like Mir, Minai, Sauda, Momin, Dabir, Anis, Dard, Insha, Daagh, Ghalib, Zouq, Iqbal, Josh, Jigar, etc. with their biographies and selected works. It is that grooming that still gives me so much pleasure when reading poetry. High school examinations in Bhopal state were under the control of the Rajputana Board, one of the toughest in undivided India. 
I don't see why a somewhat similar system, adapted to modern requirements, like computer studies, etc. can't work today. The main requirement of any good, credible system is honesty, discipline and dedication, both on the part of teachers and students. On the one hand we are shouting ourselves hoarse over the destruction of schools in Swat and the Tribal Areas (which is despicable, abhorrent and unforgivable) but at the same time we totally ignore the presence of thousands of ghost schools or schools without proper teachers and/or facilities in Sindh and Punjab. The condition of most of the government schools is atrocious. If our leaders and others responsible do not look into this serious problem and take remedial measures, the Pakistani nation will soon be reduced to a few educated elite and a majority of illiterate, ignorant and incompetent people. What I am trying to stress is that, while a top-class education at university is important, our rich cultural heritage should be inculcated at school level. If one does not know one's own cultural heritage, one loses one's identity. In order to achieve this aim, the government must enforce a uniform school syllabus for the whole of Pakistan in which our cultural heritage is an integral part.

Feb 22, 2009

The Cosmic Dance Of Shiva

"Modern physics has shown that the rhythm of creation and destruction is not only manifest in the turn of the seasons and in the birth and death of all living creatures, but is also the very essence of inorganic matter. For the modern physicists, then, Shiva's dance is the dance of subatomic matter. Hundreds of years ago, Indian clip_image010artists created visual images of dancing Shivas in a beautiful series of bronzes. In our time, physicists have used the most advanced technology to portray the patterns of the cosmic dance. The metaphor of the cosmic dance thus unifies ancient mythology, religious art and modern physics. Indian artists have created beautiful pictures and statues of dancing Lord Siva. These statues are visual images of the cosmic dance, and so are the bubble chamber tracks photographed by modern physicists. They are a modern version of the dance of Siva obtained by using the most modern and advanced of our Western technological instruments. To me, the effect is as beautiful and as profound as the magnificent Hindu statues. In both cases, we are picturing an eternal dance of creation and destruction, which is the basis of all natural phenomena, the basis of all existence." - Fritjof Capra
Shiva, the arch-yogi of the gods, is necessarily also the master of the dance. The dance is an act of creation. It brings about a new situation and summons clip_image002into the dancer a new and higher personality. It has a cosmogonic function, in that it rouses dormant energies which them may shape the world. On a universal scale, Shiva is the Cosmic Dancer; in his Dancing Manifestation (nritya-murti) he embodies in himself and simultaneously gives manifestation to Eternal Energy. The forces gathered and projected in his frantic, ever-enduring gyration, are the powers of the evolution, maintenance, and dissolution of the world. Nature and all its creatures are the effects of his eternal dance.
Shiva-Nataraja is represented in a beautiful series of South Indian bronzes dating from the tenth and twelfth centuries A.D. The details of these figures are to be read, according to the Hindu tradition, in terms of complex pictorial allegory.
The upper right hand, it will be observed, carries a little drum, shaped like an hour-glass, for the beating of the rhythm. This connotes Sound, the vehicle of speech, the conveyer of revelation, tradition, incantation magic and divine truth. Furthermore, Sound is associated in India with Ether, the first of the five elements. Ether is the primary and most subtly pervasive evolution of the universe, all the other elements, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. Together, therefore, Sound and Ether signify the first, truth-pregnant moment of creation, the productive energy of the Absolute, in its pristine, cosmogenetic strength.
 bhopale-nataagni The opposite hand, the upper left, with a half-moon posture of the figure (ardhacandra-mudra), bears on its palm a tongue of flame. Fire is the element of the destruction of the world. At the close of the Kali Yuga, Fire will annihilate the body of creation, to be itself then quenched by the ocean of the void. Here, then, in the balance of the hands, is illustrated a counterpoise of creation and destruction in the play of the cosmic dance. Sound against flame. And the field of the terrible interplay is the Dancing Ground of the Universe, brilliant and horrific with the dance of the god.
The “fear not” gesture (abhaya-mudra), bestowing protection and peacebhopale-nataabhay , is displayed by the second right hand, while the remaining left lifted across the chest, points downward to the uplifted left foot. This foot signifies Release, and is the refuge and salvation of the devotee. It is to be worshipped for the attainment of union with the Absolute. The hand pointing to it is held in a pose imitative of the outstretched trunk or “hand of the elephant” (gaja-hasta-mudra), reminding us of Ganesha, Shiva’s son, the Remover of Obstacles.
The divinity is represented as dancing on the postrate body of a dwarfish demonbhopale-shiva. This is “Apasmara Purusha,” The Man or Demon (purusha) called Forgetfulness, or Heedlessness (apasmara). It is symbolical of life’s blindness, man’s ignorance. Therein is release from the bondages of the world.
A ring of flames and light (prabha-mandala) issues from and encompasses the god. This is said to signify the vital processes of the universe and its creatures, nature’s dance as moved by the dancing god within. Simultaneously it is said to signify the energy of Wisdom, the transcendental light of the knowledge of truth, dancing forth, from the personification of the All. Shiva as the Cosmic Dancer is the embodiment and manifestation of eternal energy in its ‘five activities’ (panch-kriya)
  1. Creation (sristi)–the pouring forth or unfolding
  2. Maintenance (sthiti)– the duration
  3. Destruction (samhara)–the taking back or reabsorption
  4. Concealment (tiro-bhava)–the veiling of True Being behind the masks and garbs of apparitions, aloofness, display of Maya,
  5. Favor (anugraha)–acceptance of the devotee, acknowledgment of the pious endeavor of the yogi, bestowal of peace.
Shiva is Kala, ‘The Black One’ ‘Time’; but he is also Maha Kala, ‘Great Time’, ‘Eternity’. As Nataraja, King of Dancers, his gestures, wild and full of grace, precipitate the cosmic illusion; his flying arms and legs and the swaying of his torso produce– indeed, theyShiva are–the continuous creation-destruction of the universe, death exactly balancing birth, annihilation the end of every coming-forth. The choreography is the whirligig of time. History and its ruins, the explosion of suns, are flashes from the tireless swinging sequence of the gestures. In the medieval bronze figurines, not merely  a single phase or movement, but cyclic rhythm, flowing on and non in the unstayable, irreversible round of the Mahayugas, or Great Eons, is marked by the beating and stamping of the Master’s heel.
But the face remains, meanwhile, in sovereign calm.
Shiva is apparently, thus, two opposite things, archetypal ascetic, and archetypal dancer. On one hand , he is Total Tranquility — inward calm absorbed in itself, absorbed in the void of the Absolute, where all distinctions merge and dissolve, and all tensions are at rest. But on the other hand, he is Total Activity — life’s energy, frantic, aimless, and playful.
(Heinrich Zimmer in his book “Philosophies of India”)

Feb 14, 2009

Cupid Visits Bhopal - 2009

So how have you been Bhopalis?
It has been one year since my last visit.
Many things have changed across the world in the last one year, specially in this part of the world.
Let that be - what's up in Bhopal?

People are threatening to marry off young lovers? Oh that one was from previous year (opportunities in adversity).

Give young lovers a good beating? That has been happening since long.
Previously it used to be done by biological father of involved parties.
Now, in the spirit of outsourcing, the role has shifted to cultural fathers.
That is that.

The moral police is being superfluous, I tell you.
Why mention something like "Couples will be more afraid of being married off than of being scolded, beaten or faces being blackened".
That is like saying people will be more afraid of life imprisonment, then a bail able warrant.
Not sure though, how these people ensure that the effected parties remain married even after the D-Day? See what I mean?
After all, what most probably happens in this 'married off' business is instant marriages, which like instant coffee, does not stand the tests of the actual Filter Kapi.Any clues?

What else?
A Qanooni Brigade (Law Brigade)?
Now that sounds new. What are these people up to?
"File cases against the moral police in respective police stations. If no action is taken, forum will file cases against them in court"?
Then one will have to wait for 466 years (in Delhi, what is the period in Jabalpur?) for your four minutes fifty five seconds to arrive.
It will take a Supreme Court certified idiot to make such plans.

But, what is your dear police doing?
They said "We will not let anyone interfere in the personal freedom of a person."
Jolly good, I must say.
Then, have a look at what they did.
"Thirty-five Shiv Sainiks were arrested after they stormed into a zoo, Gandhi Prani Udhinyan, in Inderganj police station area in Gwalior looking for lovelorn couples," Gwalior Superintendent of Police U K Suryavanshi told PTI."
Pray why on earth were they ever allowed out of the zoo?
What? The animals started collecting Pink Chaddies?
Okay, I should have guessed.

So nothing interesting seems to have happened?
What is the name of the movie? 'Dostana'?
Hush! Hide all the prints for god’s sake.
You never know.
There might be a ban on boys going out together the next time I come visiting.

So long people ... till the next year.

Feb 9, 2009

Gulabi Chaddi Abhiyan

If what happened in Mangalore was disturbing, what is happening in its wake is strange. The first enquiry launched by the National Commission for Women, after making many agitated noises, shifted the blame on to the pub and set about checking its license, before a new inquiry was launched. Politicians, as usual, are making strange suggestions, While Ashok Gehlot of Congress, Chief Minister of Rajasthan says "that girls and boys holding hands is not proper", Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Choudhury is planning a 'pub-bharo' campaign.

Our problem is increasingly not that we are becoming more intolerant as a society, but that we are becoming more tolerant of symbolic intolerance. We tolerate publicity seeking non-entities too much, giving them way too much leeway in mounting these symbolic assaults on basic freedoms. We are afraid of giving them salutary punishment and end up creating monsters who gradually turn real. Here is a fringe group that carries out a one-off symbolic attack, purely to garner attention. It is not indicative of a mass movement, nor is accompanied by a larger attempt to curtail individual freedom. The fact that media cameras were on hand to record what happened, as indeed they always are in events of this kind, gives the intent away. Bhopal has witnessed many such shows over the years ,
specially on the Valentines Day (2007, 2008).

Most of the people here are not great fans of Valentine's Day. Nonetheless what we saw on Television was mind-numbing horror. It is widely believed that this so called "campaign" will intensify this week with Valentines Day approaching. With retired DIGs feeling "After drinking, boys lose their controls and can be doing anything to girls", and Shri Ram Sene going by the tried and tasted formula, it is time that some thing radical happens.

Check out this site (Facebook), and if any of you take up the challenge, do let the world know by posting some pictures or writing an article about your action.

Update: Chaddi de do, Sari le lo

Feb 6, 2009

1000 Bhopal

What changed the future of the many lives in the city of Bhopal on December 3 has left an indelible stain on the minds of the people till date. To commomerate the 24th Anniversary of one of India's worst industrial disasters, a group of youth had organised a concert titled No More Bhopals back in December 2008, kick-starting a series called Justice Rocks, exposing the youth to issues of social justice through different genres of music.

The success and the reach has now made the group who call themselves Youth for Social Change, to organise a second concert in the series titled 1000 Bhopals, a fund-raiser programme, that will be held on Februrary 7 and 8 at the YMCA ground at Nandanam, Chennai. The proceeds are being handed over the victims of the gas tragedy, who will present for the concerts.

The 1000 Bhopal concert is aimed to take the issue of the Bhopal tragedy, one step forward, by putting forth the message that Bhopal is not just one city where such a dire incident had altered the life of the people of Bhopal forever, but there are also other places including Cuddalore and Mettur that are toxic hotspots, where industries poison the people and the environment in the name of industrial development but can end up being another Bhopal. The concert will also celebrate those struggles waged by these pollution-impacted communities for justice.

The two-day concert will see the 15 of the best college and schools bands perform, besides two popular professional bands — Rainbow Bridge, Yodhaka and Karnatriix. Bringing together a range of genres that include jazz, rock, classical, fusion, Tamil folk and many more, the evenings will also entertain the youth with punctuated street plays and other small performances like road plays that can pass the message of the evening in few seconds

Bhopal : A Prayer for Rain

Bhopal : A Prayer for Rain, a film on the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984, was declared tax-free in Madhya Pradesh by chief minister Shivraj ...