Posts Tagged Pakistan

RIP John McCain & RIP Atal Bihari Vajpaiee

World lost two leaders this month, in world’s two greatest democracies, India and the USA, and were fondly remembered in many tributes. RIP #JohnMcCain & RIP #AtalBihariVajpaiee . Regardless of the party and ideology, these conservative career politicians remind us that democracy rests on the shoulders of men and women who dedicate their lives for making a case for their principles and then accepting the verdict that comes from people and serving with grace, regardless of the outcome. These men sought to unite the people under their leadership, served with integrity, and chose to be guided by their conscience and tried to build bridges, when they could. Some highlights from the lives of these two men – specifically their centrist moves — something that is inevitable in a democracy and something we need an ardent reminder of, in these polarizing times.

Image result for atal bihariAtal Bihari Vajpaiee: Under ABV, BJP moderated its extreme conservative Hindu nationalism. India conducted 5 nuclear tests during his time in office but Vajpaiee simultaneously softened hard stance towards Pakistan, inaugurated Delhi-Lahore bus service and in fact traveled to Lahore by bus and made a push for full scale diplomatic peace process. Unfortunately Pakistan’s incursion into India’s borders, into LOC (line of control), led to bloody Kargil war during his time. Pakistan was forced to withdraw, after suffering heavy losses. ABV took oath for the office of Prime Minister of India 3 times and served thrice in that capacity for varying lengths. Indian airlines flight was hijacked when he was PM. But the biggest political disaster hit his government in 2001 when there was destruction of Babri Mosque & VHP wanted to lay foundation for a temple at the site. Thousands gathered but it ended peacefully. In 2002 however, when Hindu pilgrims were killed in a train returning from protests in Ayodhya, the resulting anti-Muslim sentiments led to intense violence and deaths of thousands of Muslims and destruction of their homes and property, in the state of Gujarat.  In his last years in the parliament, ABV made last efforts to achieve peace with Pakistan, he also visited China and China-India relations improved greatly. ABV’s government introduced many domestic and economic and infrastructural reforms to encourage foreign investments, reduce governmental waste and encourage R&D and privatization of government owned corporations and introduced efforts to improve quality of education. ABV was recipient of Bharat Ratna, India’s highest award for exceptional service.

Beverly HIlls, California, USA; May 28, 2008; Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain speaks during a press conference at the Beverly Hilton.John McCain: Although generally a conservative, McCain disagreed with his party, when guided by his conscience to do so. Most recent example was when he voted against the repeal of #Obamacare. He was a member of bipartisan “Gang of 14”. McCain made campaign finance reform one of his signature concerns that eventually led to passing of the McCain–Feingold Act. McCain also chaired the Senate Commerce Committee and opposed pork barrel spending. McCain lost his party’s nomination for president once to George W. Bush and once he lost his bid for the highest office to Barack Obama. McCain invited both his previous opponents Bush and Obama to give eulogies at his funeral. That is a mark of a man who does not hold grudges and seeks to build bridges. When McCain served in the Vietnam war, he endured fractures and almost drowned and was then captured by the enemy in 1967. He was held by the enemy forces for over 5 years. When his father became commander of US forces, the enemy offered to release him but McCain refused saying “I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy”. As a prisoner, he endured severe solitary confinement, had dysentery, was repeatedly tortured, severely beaten (once on a schedule of every 2 hours), and planned to commit suicide when he reached his breaking point. McCain survived, became a vocal opponent of extreme torture, and later joined politics. McCain married his first wife Carol, adopted her two children and had a daughter. But after his return from Vietnam, both had changed, he had extra marital affairs for which he took full responsibility and later he and his wife amicably divorced and he married his second wife Cindy in 1981. Cindy and John had three children and later adopted a girl from Bangladesh and named her Bridget. McCain was recipient of several awards. McCain’s many contributions and his often choosing to be guided by his conscience rather than by party and politics were mentioned and remembered today by his many friends, as he was laid to rest.

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Toba Tek Singh: Play Review (

Toba Tek Singh is yet another example of NAATAK company’s efforts to bring bold and audacious plays in Indian languages or with Indian theme, on stage.  Very special credits for this amazing production go to brilliant director Sujit Saraf who adapted the original story for stage, to brilliant producer who wears multiple hats, Soumya Agastya and to brilliant music director, Nachiketa Yakkundi. Based off of the original story written by Saadat Hasan Manto, Toba Tek Singh focuses on exchange of inmates in a Lahore asylum, after the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. The ensuing conflict between India and Pakistan displaced nearly 15 million people and nearly 1 million people died during the migration, leaving behind a bloody legacy. The story of Toba Tek Singh is not only a powerful satire on the events that transpired in the aftermath of the violent division but when observed through the eyes of a madman, one can’t help but feel that he was the only sane person questioning the ridiculousness of the entire situation, in a sea of complete and utter lunacy.

Image may contain: 10 people, people smiling, people standingPerformed with live music and phenomenal dances by women in colorful costumes, the lunacy of the bloody events feels even more stark. Toba Tek Singh is the largest production in Naatak’s 22 year history.  It is amazing and delightful to see the huge entire cast perform their roles flawlessly. But it is the live musicians, under the leadership of Yakkundi and amazing dancers under the leadership of choreographers, Shaira Bhan and Snigdha Singh that this special story was transformed into a grand musical.

Image result for partition, india, pakistan
When the British
left India divided and splintered, clear borders were not announced until after the division, throwing millions of people into chaos and confusion. In an immediate aftermath, there began one of the greatest migrations in human history, as millions of Hindus and Sikhs began the trek towards India and millions of Muslims in the opposite direction towards Pakistan in the West and East. While millions and millions were displaced and left homeless, nearly a million never made it as people were massacred during migration, some were abducted and many were raped, forced into sexual slavery, and left disfigured and dismembered. But lunetics housed in the mental asylums were safe from this madness.

Image may contain: 3 people, people sittingThe story of Toba Tek Singh begins in 1948, a year after the partition, when the governments of India and Pakistan decide that the lunatics living in the mental asylums must also be exchanged so that Muslim lunatics in India may be sent to Pakistan, while Hindu and Sikh lunatics in Pakistan may be sent to India.  One of the lunatics is a Sikh inmate named Bishan Singh who is to be sent under police escort to India from Lahore. Bishan Singh wants to remain in a country where his home village Toba Tek Singh remains and he asks several people where Toba Tek Singh is.  He is alternately told it is in India and then told it is in Pakistan. When he finally believes that his hometown Toba Tek Singh will be part of the new Pakistan, he refuses to go to India and lies down right in the middle, in the no man’s land.

When you watch the play, you somehow feel that Bishan Singh is the only man true to his feelings, unlike Naidu or Jinnah or Gandhi or Nehru or Mountbatten or Edwina or Godse who are all caught up in their own self serving versions and visions of the event.  Each one of the other characters use multiple tactics and strategies, plot and craft to manipulate and maneuver the events to fit their vision. Bishan Singh simply wants to live in a place he has known as home because home is where the heart is and to get uprooted from homeland is like getting  your heart ripped out.

Toba Tek Singh will be running in Woodside, CA till July 29, 2017. Get your tickets at .

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2014 – Year-end Review ——- Theme: Confront Reality & Get Things Done!

English: Biosafety level 4 hazmat suit: resear...

English: Biosafety level 4 hazmat suit: researcher is working with the Ebola virus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Year 2014 is coming to a close.  As I see it, it has been a year to confront the reality and get things done.  Affordable Care Act became law in January, increasing the accessibility of healthcare, in the US.  TIME declared Ebola as the defining issue of the 20th century. It was no more in remote regions of Africa but in the capitals and it landed in the USA.  The reality is that we are living in a global world.  

And then President Obama reminded us that even though some of our neighbors entered the border illegally, they have made their home here, are working hard, supporting their families and they should have NOT amnesty, but an opportunity to make it right with the law, and live here temporarily, AND pay their share of the taxes, because people can’t live in the shadows, in a global world of visibility and accountability.   Long overdue immigration reform will enable many people to come out of the shadows and add to the national treasury – a win-win – what’s not to like?

The same applies to our gay neighbors.  They should not have to live in the shadows.  Majority of the states this year, legalized same sex marriages and US supreme court refused to hear appeals from states seeking to keep same sex marriage ban in place.  Many states also legalized marijuana.  But what about our veterans living in the shadows?  Department of Veterans Affairs got more resources (as house passed the bill, at the end of the year, averting shutdown), and it now has to get its act together and make it right with those who defend our freedom and values.

And what about skin color?  We are confronting the reality that more than 50 years after Dr. King laid out his vision for color-fair society, people are still being judged on the basis of the color of their skin and paying with their lives.  This does not just happen when young men turn 22 but prejudice hits in childhood and it splinters society.  We can heal and move ahead, but scars made by history, and distrust can only heal when there are no new wounds, when there is real dialog, when each side gets to even briefly experience the reality that the other lives with, and have compassion.  We are confronting the reality and lot of dialog is happening.  Much work remains to be done but the issue can’t be ignored any longer.

And then the lowest of the low, terrorists and those plotting terror.  How do we deal with them?  Report on CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the post-9/11 era reveals that “CIA detainees were tortured”.  When we lose sight of our values, when the boundaries between moral and immoral gets blurry, then we lose, regardless of what we were seeking to gain.  This is a true moment for national soul searching. (the fact some people may be only suspected of being terrorists is whole other story).

Globally, also we are confronting realities.  World’s largest democracy, India, elected controversial Mr. Narendra Modi as Prime Minister.  Mr. Modi has reached out to leaders across the world and declared campaigns to clean up India.  My birthplace has so much to offer to the world and if it cleans up its act, under the helm of Mr. Modi, I couldn’t be happier.  Our neighbors need to clean up their act too, even as they rightfully blame the US for its insatiable appetite for drugs.  Capture of “El Chapo” Guzman in Mexico was a HUGE victory that got overshadowed later by disappearance and ruthless murder of 43 Mexican college students.  “#YaMeCanse12”!  Abduction of 270 high school girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria #BringBackOurGirls and scores of Yazidi women bought, sold, raped, and murdered, underscores the need to define rape during conflict as a war crime and not a woman’s issue.  By some estimates, more than 7 million (50% are children) are displaced by war in Syria (200,000 are killed) and 100,000+ Yazidis are displaced by ISIS.  Let us continue to keep theses issues in the spotlight.

The year is ending on a rather sad note of the children who lost their lives in #PeshawarSchoolAttack in Pakistan.  Here is my short poem in their memory – .  It was heart warming to see India support its neighbor in the hour of grief as #IndiawithPakistan was a popular hashtag on twitter. And also deeply heartwarming to see Pakistan echo the sentiments when #PakistanwithIndia and sepecially #PakistanwithIndiaNoToLakhviBail became trendy topics on twitter as overwhelmingly Pakistani people reacted negatively to their government’s decision to give bail to Mumbai terror mastermind Lakhvi.  May the balanced sentiments always prevail over extremism, because the reality is that we live in a global world and terror can’t be nurtured and targeted because sooner or later it would hit home.  Global world also demands secularism.

As a ray of light and hope, Malala Yousafzai, courageous young lady from Pakistan, spearheading girls’ right to education and Kailash Satyarthi from india, a brave and dedicated activist for children’s rights and against child labor, shared the Nobel Prize, sending strong messages that fight to honor children’s rights will continue.


wpid-20140920_173123.jpgHard as it is to confront the reality that one’s parents may not be there forever, I was very happy to spend wonderful time with my mother and my aunty (her sister).  I tried to focus on giving them a break from their routines and enable them to have some fun, some unusual experiences.  Isn’t it amazing that when a mother gives, she gives with her heart and soul, but when she receives from her children, she receives with a feeling of enormous debt and gratitude!  Both my children are focused on their careers; wpid-20140805_201145-1.jpgNeil is working with Cisco in IT and Neesha is finishing college this coming year.  Both are my pride and joy :).  It has also been fun hosting my daughter’s friend from UCSD, originally from Palestine, during the holidays, and alternately being “naughty” with the girls, and playing aunty-mom to two daughters :).wpid-20141221_150415.jpg

wpid-20141221_161442.jpgThis year, I also visited Japan (we were hosted by many amazing friends and you can see all details in my travel blogs), an amazingly polite and most efficient culture, with world’s most interesting toilets  This year I also started travel blogs and you can see my many blogs at

And finally, here are links to some of the most amazing things that I blogged about, this year.
Best movie – “Last Days in Vietnam”
Best play – “Truce” and “Andhera Hone Tak”
Best book – “The Glass Castle”
Best biomedical technologies — so many exciting technologies in early to mid stages of development for — treatment of ALS, for technology for early detection of cervical cancer, technology that aims to deliver drugs via inhalation for AFib, point of care solution to minimize prescription filling errors

Wishing my readers, family & friends, and my clients and colleagues, peace and joy in the year 2015.  Best wishes to my many friends in fantastic groups that I am routinely affiliated with (each of them enhance life for many, personally and/or professionally),,,,,,, .

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Many Little Pieces That Shan’t – Poem (after tragic tragic murder of kids in Pakistan)

I can only imagine the deep deep anguish of parents of the children who lost their lives to terrorists in Pakistan.
Here’s a poem dedicated to the parents, for whom the pain will live forever.

A mother looks over her 15-year-old son Mohammed Ali Khan, who was killed by the Taliban gunmen




Many Little Pieces That Shan’t

My child, my heart has broken into many little pieces
In tiny pieces, it’s torn with fury, sadness, numbness

To give warmth, one piece will lie beside you
Six feet under cold cruel earth, always loving you

One will fly heavenward, with you in tandem
I am mother not by chance, it’s not  random

One shall go to demand justice, to HELL
My bleeding heart will go with the evil

In one small piece of my heart, I will try to fill
All your love and then will make time stand still

What I won’t do is pick up the pieces, I just can’t
My heart’s broken into many little pieces that shan’t


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“Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” – Bolywood Movie Review

“Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” (run Milkha run), shouted Milkha’s father, as he lay dying, at the hands of the militants, and Milkha kept running, all the way across the Indian border, from his village in Pakistan.  The devastation and carnage that resulted when the British left a deeply divided and broken county, displaced an estimated 12 to 15 million people, and over 1.5 million people are estimated to have lost their lives, in the mass violence.  It probably left wounds so deep, trauma so inexplicable that one cannot imagine how people put their lives back together.  Here is one story of Milkha Singh.  The movie unfolds, against the backdrop of tragic massacre of Milkha Singh’s family, who chose to stay in their homeland and fight the enemy, rather than run.  The movie is based on a true story and you can google the details of how young Milkha (Jabtej Singh) and his sister (Divya Dutta) with her family, manage to escape, how Milkha got into trouble with the law, but then found inspiration in love, which propelled him to a career in the Indian army, where he took up running, eventually winning scores of medals on behalf of the country.  (A little side note, both Jabtej Singh and Divya Dutta have done an awesome job in the side roles of junior Milkha and his sister, respectively).

Eventually, Milkha Singh, superbly played by Farhan Akhtar, faced a dilemma that would bring him face to face with his past.  India’s most inconic athlete who ran away from Pakistan and had been running ever since, was summoned by the President himself, Mr. Nehru, to return back to Pakistan, to lead his team in running.  Indian officials implored, cajoled, and pleaded Milkha Singh to represent India, in Pakistan, during the friendly games, to mark the occasion of coming together of both countries.

Based on a script written by Prasoon Joshi, the film is produced and directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra.  It is albeit a bit long and I would have liked to see it a little short.  However, the cast is superb, the songs are beautiful and the true story of Milkha Singh, known as the “Flying Singh”, a moniker given by Pakistan’s General Ayub Khan, is tragic and inspiring.  The devastation of India Pakistan breakup, the roads littered with broken limbs and broken dreams, left such deep wounds, that countries and people sought to burry the tragedy and forget about it, rather than talk about it and learn from it.  It is only now that this subject is getting attention.  Recently, San Francisco Bay Area’s local NAATAK company ( produced an incredible play “Jisne Lahore Dekhya Nahin Vo Janmya Hi Nahin” and 1947 Partition Archives, a non profit group, is building an archive of true life stories impacted by the partition.

Always buried in the tragedy, there is a story of inspiration, love that was transforming, a character that was built, achievement that was remarkable, past that was revisited and reconciled with.  Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, is one such story and Milkha is said to have publicly opined that the movie is a fairly accurate depiction of his life up to 1962, where the movie ends.  Don’t miss it.  I give it a 4.8 on a 5 point scale, with 5 being excellent.

English: Flag of Indian Army

English: Flag of Indian Army (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Movie Review

Directed by brilliant filmmaker Mira Nair, this movie is based on a novel by Mohsin Hamid, adapted for screen, by Ami Boghani , with screen play by William Wheeler.  Riz Ahmed’s performance is brilliant, in the role of Changez, a Pakistani-born, Wall Street financial analyst, who is living the American dream, before everything changes with the terrorist attacks, on 9/11.

English: Mira Nair at the 2008 IIFW Masterclas...

English: Mira Nair at the 2008 IIFW Masterclass Directors Meet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The way in which the word “fundamental” is used in the movie, is as complex as the human saga that unfolds, in the larger context of the events that occur around him.  Changez is living an American dream, a rising star in the meritocracy based system at Underwood Sampson firm, which instructs its employees to “focus on the fundamentals”, referring to laser sharp focus on assessing the assets’ value, through clear, data driven financial details.  Changez also has an American girl friend, played by Kate Hudson and he is dreaming of becoming a Managing Director, some day.

However, following 9/11, Changez is singled out, arrested, strip searched, and he begins to see holes in his American dream.  The very materialism that had enticed and captured his imagination, he finds lacking.  While visiting Pakistan, he is frequently at odds with his father (played by Om Puri) but his mother (played by Shabana Azmi) dotes on him, and he loves his sister (played by Meesha Shafi), who has her own American dreams.  Changez feels, he can no longer be a part of the “establishment”, and he quits it all, and moves back to Pakistan.  Is he becoming a reluctant “fundamentalist”?   Changez tells his story to an American, Bobby Lincoln, played by Liev Schreiber, who has gone to Pakistan, in search of his recently kidnapped friend.

Before Changez attempts to help him with crucial information that could lead Bobby to his friend, Changez wants Bobby to hear his whole story.  He says, when he watched the events of 9/11, for a split second, a small part of him, felt in awe of the genius with which the events were orchestrated.  He adds, after he moved back, he told his students at the university where he teaches, that he just quit his American dream, in favor of Pakistani dream and then asked them, “what is Pakistani dream”?  He also says, he had an epiphany, that in life one must adhere to certain “fundamental truths”.

What are those fundamental truths?  Are they different for different people, standing on different sides of an issue?  In telling his story, Chanez says, he did not even have an opportunity to pick sides, his side was picked for him.  Is that possible or do we always have a choice?  And what about prematurely exercising the choice, before we learn complete details?   Did Bobby listen to the whole story?  The story of 9/11 has been told often.  But there is little that could change with each account.  The events unfolded with precision and majority of the people, on both sides of the ocean, would agree that it was an evil deed.  But how do these geo political events impact each individual, at deeply personal, intimate level?  There can be as many stories, as people who experienced that time in history.  And Mira Nair has done a fabulous job in telling one such deeply personal tale of how the events affected Changez and Bobby, both struggling in their own way, to strive for the greater good.  I rate the movie 4.7 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent.

American flag

American flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pakistan flag

Pakistan flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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“The Muslim Next Door” by Sumbul Ali-Karamali – Book Review (Understanding Prophet Muhammad, the Qur’an, and Islam)

This book should be a must read in today’s environment where consistently Islam is pitted against the rest and it should be a must read for both Muslims and non-Muslims.  Out of the many books that I constantly read, if I were to pick one book from which I have learned a very great deal and where my perspective has been shifted and enhanced, and become broader, than it is from this book.

Qur’an, like any other book of religious preaching, must be understood and interpreted in the historical context in which it was written.  Yet, I was surprised and taken aback by how much misunderstood and wrongly vilified are the teachings of Islam today.  There is a lot of information shared in the book.  I will first mention some factual information about Islamic practices, then discuss the necessity of understanding and interpreting Qu’ran and the Prophet in historical context, and then discuss the many inaccuracies so widely promulgated, in so many ways, that not only does grave disservice to the teachings of Islam (that I now feel blessed to have a broadened perspective on) but is divisive and therefore does grave harm to humanity as a whole.

First, about understanding of simple Islamic practices, the book is a treasure trove of information.  For instance, Ali-Karamali explains that frequent prayer in Islam is to serve as frequent reminder of God; the month of Ramadan is celebration of when God first revealed Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad; the special night of the month, the Night of Power (Lilat al-Qadr), usually falling on the twenty-seventh day of Ramadan commemorates the evening the Prophet received the first revelation from God; and prayers on that night are supposed to reach God with more strength and clarity.  Eid ul-Fitr falls on the first day of the month of Shawwal and moon must be sighted the night before to determine whether the following day is Eid (hence the popular phrase Eid ka chaand).  She explains about religious dictates on dietary restrictions, restrictions on gambling, on giving or taking interest, on loans etc.

Historically, Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad around the year 600 AD. Islam considers Noah, Moses, and Jesus as prophets and reveres them and sees Islam as an extension of Judeo Christian traditions and some of the teachings.  Muslims are entreated to treat Jews and Christians with respect in Qu’ran, as indicated in the verse “And do not argue with the Followers of Earlier Revelation, otherwise than in a most kindly manner….”.  Further, Qur’an is written in Arabic language, which is extremely context dependent, poetical, metaphoric language – but it is not easy to accurately understand and interpret.  God is omniscient, omnipresent, and too grand an entity for humans to comprehend and should not be depicted or represented in any way except through “One God’s” words and teachings brought by Prophet Muhammad, who is only a messenger, not to be prayed to, as a God .  Qur’an preaches monotheism (more about that below). Sharia constitutes the set of guidelines of the Islamic Law, derived from the Qu’ran but it is interpreted differently and not everyone agrees on what they are.  Two largest groups of Muslims are Sunni and Shi’a, separated from an argument regarding who was entitled to wield the religious authority, after the Prophet’s death.  Those who chose Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law, later became known as Shi’as.  The group that chose the Prophet’s friend Abu Bakr as their leader, became known as Sunnis, and they constitute about 90% of Muslims in the world.

One side note regarding monotheism.  While Ali-Karamali rectifies misconceptions about Islam and points out the peacefulness inherent in the Qur’an and point out its many similarities with Judaism and Christianity with the focus on monotheism “One God”, it needs to be pointed out that there are others who adhere to polytheistic faith.  At one point, she informs, Prophet Muhammad’s new religion threatened the Meccan polytheistic religion that was symbolized by the Ka’ba which had become populated with idols.  The Qur’an had “named the Ka’ba as the direction that Muslims should face while praying and had also designated it as the Muslim place of pilgrimage.  It was a powerful symbol, and part of Muhammad’s duty was to restore the Ka’ba to its rightful role”.  It made me question, “Rightful” as determined by whom?  The belief in monotheism may not be only morally justifiable or “rightful” one and there are close to one billion people in the world today who practice Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism etc. and believe in Polytheism.  While it is a whole different subject, polytheistic belief is linked to the notion that the divine resides everywhere and is manifested in various forms and various places and hence many diverse idols can serve as reminders and evoke the sense of righteousness, the same function that frequent prayers serve in Islam.

Leaving aside that side note, the biggest contribution of the book is in lucidly explaining the verses and information from Qur’an and information about Prophet Muhammad.  It sheds light on how enormously forward-thinking, generous, and kind-hearted a person the Prophet was and how Qur’an has been misquoted or taken out of context.  Islam and the holy book Qur’an has been frequently criticized and portrayed in the media to be violent.  However, there are 47 fighting verses, and out of a total of 6000 verses covering various other subjects, there are 114 verses urging peace.  For instance, a fighting verse says “do not take Jews and Christians for your allies”, but then it frequently urges peace with verses like “I do not worship that which you worship and neither do you worship that which I worship… Unto you, your religion, and unto me, my religion” and “If anyone slays a human being, it shall be as though he had slain all mankind,; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as through he had saved the lives of all mankind”.  Given the historical context of the time, fighting was sometimes the only way to prevent cruelty, a verse in Qur’an says “How could you refuse to fight in the cause of God and of the utterly helpless men and women and children who are crying, “O our Sustainer!” Lead us to freedom out of this land whose people are oppressors”. And yet it urges peace again and again and again.  Another verse says “And slay them wherever you may come upon them, and drive them away from wherever they drove you away” but the immediate verse after that says, “but do not attack them if they do not attack you first.  Allah loves not the aggressor”.  Qur’an insists on peace whenever possible, as in the verse, “Fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression – for verily, God does not love aggressors” and although a verse says “Slay the infidels wherever you find them”, it also says “but if they desist, all hostility shall cease” and “Thus, if they let you be, and do not make war on you, and offer you peace, God does not allow you to harm them”.  Given the historical context, I am surprised that there is even one verse urging peace.  At the time in history, any leader trying to protect the followers, also urged them to fight for righteousness, as in Hinduism, Lord Krishna, like the Prophet Muhammad, preached the importance of doing this duty.  But how awesome that during extremely violent times, there were also peaceful Masihas! How wrong it would be to distort their preachings and quote them out of context.   

Prophet Muhammad lived in a violent society, and served as a political leader of over 10,000 people.   As a leader, he sought to bring stability and peace to the people.  In an environment of lawlessness, bloodshed, and tribal warfare, he sought to bring about the rule of law and specified in detail the pious and peaceful behaviors, revealed to him by God.  One needs to appreciate how hugely difficult this task would be in a climate where men often beat their wives, often proclaimed them to be not their wives and yet not free to marry again, where women were beaten, and female infanticide was common.  Prophet Muhammad himself is strongly criticized for having numerous wives, although polygamy was a common practice in many parts of the world and often rulers married for political alliances, including Hindu kings who frequently took many wives; and all royal alliances in England and Europe were for political reasons.  The prophet himself was married to his first wife Khadija, whom he married at the age of 24 and remained married for almost 25 years.  This was a time when men often died in wars and were scarce and many women and children were left orphans, without any means to provide for themselves and to take a wife was to provide for her.  Almost in his fifties, when the Prophet was emerging as a religious and political leader, and after his first wife Khadija passed away, he then took 9 other wives, 8 of whom were widows and some of those marriages were in order to form political alliances.  The Qur’an officially allows a man to take up to four wives and urges a man to treat them with equal fairness and it further says “and it will not be within your power to treat your wives with equal fairness, however much you may desire it”, which could be interpreted to mean that men better not take more wives than one.

This was a time when women would understandably not prefer to be divorced.  And yet forward-thinking Qur’an makes allowances whereby not only men can obtain divorce, but also women.  Men retained the previously existing unilateral right to divorce but were required to follow certain procedures including saying talaq (I divorce thee) three times at separate intervals, allowing for changing the mind.  Wife could keep her dowry if her husband divorced her and she received automatic custody of small children and received the right to maintenance payments.  A wife can also divorce her husband if any of the two predetermined conditions entered during the signing of the marriage contract were violated or by applying for a judicial divorce.  It is amazing how forward thinking this was – when hardly any women would actually want a divorce, except under absolutely unbearable conditions.   Keeping in mind the historical context, when men were allowed to beat their wives according to Christianity, and where women did not get any property under the English law, for instance, the Bennett sisters tended to loose their dad’s estate in England, in Jane Eyre’s Price and Prejudice, the Qu’ran gave women a right to inherit property, to keep property upon marriage, right to not be forced into marriage, and right to testify in court.  It is often cited in the media that under the Islamic law, one man’s testimony was equal to two women’s.  However, understanding this in the historical context when women needed the support of other women in the court, this was the most perfect arrangement.  It is indeed sad that some countries continue to practice some of the laws that made such perfect sense at the time and may not be useful now.

Severe punishment by stoning for adultery and by amputation for theft is cited as further examples of violence preached and practiced by Islam.  It was therefore, very illuminating to learn that the punishment is so highly circumscribed with restrictions and conditions, that it would be practically impossible to fulfill, and therefore only meant to highlight the moral severity of the crime.  For instance, amputation is to be applied for theft only “in a world where hunger and want no longer existed” and moreover if the person committing any crime ever repents then he or she is to be pardoned, with the emphasis that forgiveness and waiver of the punishment is always the best course.  In Old Testament, death penalty was the recommended punishment for stubborn and rebellious children, which was never meant to be carried out, and in England, as late as nineteenth century, some 200 crimes were punishable by death.  Adultery is also incredibly difficult to prove under Islamic law and if even by some freak coincidence it is proven, the mitigating factors severely limit the application of its punishment.  The prosecution must produce four reliable eyewitnesses who have seen the act of sexual intercourse itself.  Further, falsely accusing someone of illicit sexual relations is itself a serious crime, and if one witness retracts his accusation, all four witnesses are liable for the penalty for false accusation.  Again it is so carefully worded as to prevent the penalty from taking place.  Only Yemen and Saudi Arabia try to apply classical Islamic law and some countries like Libya, Pakistan and Sudan have inserted Islamic provisions into their codes.  But Qur’an after all was written at a different time in history and forward thinking as it was, the Islamic Law derived from it, cannot be meant to be applied literally today.

Islam is consistently portrayed as being violent and equated with Taliban etc. despite the fact that there are over 1.5 billion peaceful practitioners of Islam.  While most countries including Iran, Saudi Arabia and groups like Hizbullah condemned 9/11 attacks, the media rarely focused on that kind of coverage.  Media often omits peaceful progress in the Islamic countries and also often omits Muslim identities when the victims of violence are Muslim.  On the other hand, Islam and Muslim are frequently associated with terror and hate, as in references to “Islamic terrorists”, “Muslim fundamentalists” and so on.  As the world becomes more divided on this issue, Muslims are frequently targets of aggression.  For instance, villages after villages of Bosnian Muslims were massacred in ethnic cleansing in Bosnia; ethnic cleansing is ongoing by Russia in Chechnya; also in 2002, in the Indian state of Gujrat, over 2000 Muslims were murdered in ethnic cleansing campaign, where the government willfully neglected to intervene; and then there was the horrific massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995.  Also frequently repeated are statements that encourage the lazy mentality as in “Muslims will always fight”, Muslims and Jews have been ancient enemies, Hindus and Muslims have old hatred” etc.  But in fact, contrary is also true.  Hindus and Muslims lived peacefully together for long period of time in India; Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived in a multicultural, multireligious society for 800 years in Europe, before the Spanish inquisition in Spain; Albania with 70% Muslim population refused to give up their Jewish citizens to the Germans; and many Jews and Palestinians are working toward peace today.

Ali-Karamali asserts what should be obvious, that the Muslim mind is not a single, solid, tangible object filled with hate and bigotry but that Muslims constitute a thriving, growing, dynamic, multi-faceted population that has historically made many contributions to the advancement of knowledge in science, mathematics, art, and poetry.  Majority of Muslims today believe strictly in the spirit of Islam, of peace, tolerance, forgiveness, and compassion.

English: 11th Century North African Qur’an in ...

English: 11th Century North African Qur’an in the British Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: A green version of http://commons.wik...

English: A green version of (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Play – Jisne Lahore Nai Dkhya O Jamya hi Nai (One who has not seen Lahore has not been born)

This was another superb play put up by local bay area Naatak company.   Not only the troupe has matured in terms of acting and direction, but increasingly they are bringing plays with themes that enhance insight and education among the local community.

This play is set in 1947 and tells the story of a Muslim family that migrates from Lucknow to Lahore in the aftermath of the partition of India and Pakistan.  The family is allotted a Haveli supposed to be vacated by departed Hindu family.  When the family moves into the Haveli, they find an old Hindu woman living there who refuses to leave her land and her home.    The drama that ensues gives a peek into human psyche of fear and ignorance and of hatred based on imbibed religious ideology.  And then it also gives an insight into those who overcome such hatred and form ties that transcend shallow boundaries and find the answers to such complex issues what might be an appropriate and respectful way to deal with the dead body of a Hindu person in a town devoid of a crematorium and in a town where there is no one to show how to perform last rites for a Hindu.

It was a mature story that was beautifully told, superbly enacted with expert direction.

After the play, the organizers arranged a short session for real life survivors of the partition to share their stories.  For me, this was an eye-opening account of what transpired.  Before I summarize their stories that they shared, here is a short history lesson that I learned after I heard their stories.  The partition displaced up to 12.5 million people in the former British Indian Empire.  Massive population exchanges occurred between the two newly formed states in the months immediately following partition.  Once the lines were established, about 14.5 million people crossed the borders, hoping to migrate to safer environment, based on religious demarcation.  No systems were put in place to facilitate such large scale migration of people and the newly formed governments were completely unequipped to deal with the flow of people on both sides at such a massive scale.  Estimates of the number of deaths go as high as 500,000.

One of the survivors who shared his story was about 8 years old, at the time of the partition.  He and his brother was migrating with his grandmother from Kasowal, a village in Pakistan, to Delhi by train.  They boarded the train, packed to capacity.  At a station where they got off the train to board another train there was firing going on and he was shot in the calf by a bullet.  His grandmother tore off her clothes and tied the foot and they boarded another train.  En route, they witnessed women jumping into wells to save their honor, they passed through train station littered with dead bodies and miscellaneous body parts and they were in deep fear for their safety.  Luckily, a rich Hindu family and kind Muslim family was traveling with them.  They Hindu family gave the Muslim family some money and their ornaments at each station and the Muslim family told the mob at each station that they were traveling with their own family and all these were their children and at times hid them in bathrooms and under the seats.  The Muslim family was to get off at the last station before the train left Pakistan’s borders.  The family begged the Muslim man to stay on the train and defend them till the last minute before the train left and that is exactly what he did.  He got his own children off the train but himself stayed on the train, defending these Hindu passengers against the mob and finally got off after the train began moving.  When the Hindu family reached Firozpur station, they found to their horror, that theirs was perhaps one of the isolated compartments with real people.  All other compartments had dead bodies and body parts.

Another survivor also told a similar story of migration from their village.  They were the landowners with 6-7 villages.  On account of the impending news of partition, the father of this person and his uncle went on to India in search of livelihood.  Before they could arrange for their extended family of 21 to migrate to Indian side, the family’s survival was threatened and they moved into a refugee camp.  They lived for two months in this camp before a brave Indian military officer risked his own life and brought a convoy with some soldiers to bring them home.  About 50 survivors traveled together in a convoy with these soldiers under strict orders to not venture anywhere far during brief stops.  They were traveling hungry and thirsty for the most part.  At one stop, this man’s brother and one other kid ventured out to the river to drink water and were shot dead.  Finally, the convoy reached India and then they were transferred from one refugee camp to another.  Finally, one day they heard Radio India announce the name of his father.  Radio India announced names of survivors and family members with an aim to unite them.  This family was then united but without any home.  In one village, it was decided that who can find an empty home and sleep for one night in that home, would own that home.  This family of 20 people got a 300 square foot home in which they all lived together for 15 years.

These accounts were eye opening accounts for me.  My family was not anywhere near the border towns and this was not discussed extensively in schools.  In fact, one of the persons who shared his story said that this was the second time in his whole life that he has shared this story of his experience during partition.

Once again Naatak company delivered phenomenal performance around an extremely crucial historical event that touched so many lives.

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