Reflections / 05.01.2016

Last week I attended a memorial service and was impressed by the event. It was in stark contrast to our ceremonial mourning which, in a footnote in the Arabian Nights, Sir Richard Burton characterizes as “the visits of condolence and so forth which are long and terribly wearisome in the Moslem east.” Instead, the event was intended as a celebration of the full life of the deceased. Everyone in the audience who wished to offer a reflection was allowed time to do so and while none of them were truly inspiring, the purpose of sharing remembrances was fully served. There was, however, one recurring mention that finally began to strike me as incongruous – that the deceased had lived all his life in rented quarters, did not own a house, and had not accumulated any riches. I too had known the individual and was a member of...

Reflections / 04.07.2015

By Zulfikar Ghose The Sikh from Ambala in East Punjab, India, formerly in the British Empire, the Muslim from Sialkot in West Punjab, Pakistan, formerly British India, the Sikh boy and the Muslim boy are two of twenty such Sikhs and Muslims from East Punjab and West Punjab, which formerly were the Punjab, standing together in assembly, fearfully miming the words of a Christian hymn. Later, their firework voices explode in Punjabi until Mr Iqbal – which can be a Sikh name or a Muslim name, Mohammed Iqbal or Iqbal Singh – who comes from Jullundur in East Punjab but near enough to the border to be almost West Punjab, who is an expert in the archaic intonations of the Raj, until the three-piece suited Mr Iqbal gives a stiff-collared voice to his Punjabi command to shut their thick wet lips on the scattering sparks of their white Secondary Modern teeth. Mr Iqbal has come to London to teach English to Punjabi Sikhs and Muslims and has pinned up in his...

Reflections / 31.01.2015

By Anjum Altaf in Economic and Political Weekly If grief were cumulative we would have been crushed under its weight by now. Not that one wishes it so. I would go as far as to say that grief should not become a permanent burden. Therefore I have mixed feelings when I hear the young at vigils vowing never to forget. How much can they remember and what will come of all this remembering? I feel fortunate we can regroup because only then do we have the strength to act – that is, if we wish to and know how. Grief has power because it binds us together, gives collective voice to our outrage, and infuses in us the desire to fight back. But the outrage should avoid being channeled into feelings of anger or vengeance. Grief born of violence begetting yet more violence traps us in an endless cycle....

Reflections / 06.11.2014

By Hasan Altaf in Economic and Political Weekly Excerpts - The complete article is here. A Pakistani winning a Nobel Prize: This year, Malala Yousafzai has entered a very select club. There’s only one other member. Amid all the celebration of this achievement, his story should be remembered now, for the warning it offers to the Nobel committee, the optimistic international community, the hard-working activists, the Twitter-happy politicians, and all those hopeful schoolgirls cutting cakes in Mingora. It might, on the other hand, provide some comfort to those who are unhappy with the decision. *** In the meantime, though: Yousafzai still cannot return safely to the country rushing to bask in her aura. Her book remains banned by many institutions. The Government of Pakistan spends less than almost any other in the world on the education of its children. Its legal, political, cultural and social systems continue to denigrate,...

Reflections / 07.08.2014

By Anjum Altaf -- Does God love everybody? -- Yes. -- Are you sure? -- Of course. -- Then why do YOU hate so many? Are you bigger that God (NB)? Has God (NB) created some just so you can indulge your passion for hating? Has God (NB) told you there are some you can hate even though He loves them? Is your God (NB) the head of a political party? I haven’t come up with this. It’s how I read Mr. Bloom in the chapter identified as Cyclops in Ulysses. Look at it yourself (lines 1480-1520 here) if you don’t believe me: “God loves everybody” and aren’t we told to “love your neighbours”? And if I listened to God and loved my neighbour and my neighbour loved his/her neighbour wouldn’t we end with “universal love” which is “the opposite of hatred,” of “insult and hatred” which is “not life for men and...

Reflections / 06.08.2014

By Anjum Altaf It was fall last year that I was teaching the introductory course in economics and had drawn four concentric circles on the board to illustrate how the market was embedded in the economy which was embedded in society which, in turn, was embedded in the extra-terrestrial outerworld.  The objective was to spark a conversation about how the outer spheres limited what could or could not take place in the inner ones as also to point out the fact that while the economy and society had always existed, the market as an institution was a relatively recent phenomenon. From there we moved on to discuss how the reach of the market was expanding and its ambit growing to include aspects that were previously never within its domain to the extent that reading the standard textbooks one could well believe that the market economy was all...

Reflections / 01.08.2014

By Ibn-e Eusuf Father was like that. Eager to have us learn everything, oblivious to details. Busy, busy. Shunting trains by day, learning French by night. Mother never said much, went along mostly. Handed over to a music teacher or somesuch. Eight or thereabouts. No Sa Re Ga. Right away on to aye maalik tere bandey ham tuu ne zarrey se keeRaa banaya or somesuch. Closet evolutionist. Wept. Mother gently requested change of tune. Merey maalik bulaa le madeenay mujhe. About death and dying. Final requests, etc. Nothing doing. End of music hall career. Still, thanks and all. Never forgot bulaa le madeenay bit. Coming in handy now. Understand all about politics. Aatey umrah jaatey umrah. Mountain of rye. Mice. Roared. Wind ke jhonkoN se. Pudeenay ke bagh. No offence. miaN khush raho ham dua kar chalay. Farsighted bastard. Somepeople know it all. Should have stayed with him....

Reflections / 12.07.2014

By Anjum Altaf in the Economic and Political Weekly Individuals picked off, gone – strangers, friends of friends, friends, relatives – some for who they were, others for straying in the way. Names etched in memories – Ali Haider, Faisal Manzoor, Mehdi Ali, Rashed Rehman, Irfan Ali, Farzana Parveen, Perveen Rehman… The public, incapacitated – benumbed, indifferent, does it matter? Instead, shrill voices of love and hate troll predictably, pressing stale arguments into uncomplaining service. The telephone rings. A voice from afar: -- Time to give up now? We have gone to bed often with this question only to wake up irresolute, buying time, cursing broken promises, comforting fading hopes. Is love denial? Is hate the absence of understanding? Is there truth beyond love and hate? Can we look at ourselves, own what stares back at us, and find reasons to hope? On one side, history – witches burnt, heretics persecuted, blacks lynched, Jews gassed – the journey...

Reflections / 30.03.2014

By Anjum Altaf in the Economic and Political Weekly These days, though I am reading as much as ever, I am reading much less fiction. My children tell me a person who does not read literature is as good as dead. I am touched they wish me to stay alive and want, in return, to measure up to their expectations, but try as I might, I can’t. I have lost patience with story and plot and character. Ideas, on the other hand, fascinate me: I want to get to them as quickly and directly as possible. Could it be that at some point I shed the need for a character as an embodiment of an idea, a plot as a vehicle for its development, and a well-crafted story as the medium to sustain interest in its unfolding? Reading for me was as natural as breathing. I was born in...

Reflections / 25.01.2014

By Vinod Kumar These are my experiences and observations on life in India and on Indians. Although there are many generalizations in there I confess these are nothing more than my subjective accumulated experience. I am not attempting to form a theory or explanation for the behavior and culture of Indians. All the tentative theories I formed as the months passed only painted a negative view of India and made it harder for me to live here. So I have learnt the art of not forming an opinion on India and Indians. Living here is more important than having an opinion about living here. So these observations are just that – observations. There may be some commentary and musings on them but definitely not a coherent theory about India. I returned to India with plenty of ideas about mind management – mindfulness practices that help in calming...