The Complete Family

Children are among Allah’s biggest gifts and one of the biggest joys of life. Even Prophets have prayed for this gift. Our society also puts a lot of importance on having children. However, it does not mean that those who don’t have kids are inferior or incomplete in any way or are being punished by the creator. Allah decides in His infinite wisdom whom to give kids and to give how many.

Though kids are a gift, both having a kid and not having a kid is a test from the creator. This month our family welcomed a new member. Our son was born earlier this month. I have a 11 year old daughter. There were lots of congratulatory calls and messages from family and friends. There were many who enthusiastically mentioned that my family is now complete alluding to the fact that now I have a daughter and a son. I have always been intrigued by this logic. Does it mean that those who have only son/s or those who have only daughter/s dont have complete family. Or those who dont have children are incomplete in any way. I believe that every family is complete. Those couples who dont have children for whatever reason are complete family. Similarly those who have only son or daughter also have complete family.

I myself am only child of my parents. I never felt that there was anything missing or that I belong to an incomplete family. One of the most favored women in the eyes of Allah is Hazrat Asiya (May peace be upon her), the wife of Pharoh. Hazrat Asiya (May peace be upon her) had no kids. This did not lower her status. Rather she has been elevated by Allah and has been cited as an example for believing men and women for all times to come. Similarly, those who have only daughters or son are a complete family. Two examples would suffice. Hazrat Maryam (Virgin Marry), Peace be upon her, had only son, Hazrat Issa (Jesus), Peace be upon him. She had no daughter. But who can compete with her when it comes to favours of Allah.

Similarly by this logic the family of our beloved Prophet was also not complete as he had only daughters. This logic is false. By telling those who have both son and daughter we indirectly tell those who dont have kids of both gender that their families are not complete. I have seen people suffering and going through lot of pain because of this. Let us stop this weird logic. Every family is complete irrespective whether they have kids or not and irrespective of whether they have both son and daughter or not. My family was complete when I had no child. My family was complete when I had only a daughter. My family is complete when I have both a daughter and a son.

For those who dont have kids or have kids of only one gender, I would say that dont allow others to belittle you. Allah decides in His infinite Wisdom whom to give and how much to give. Accept the Will and Decree of Allah and you will find peace.

“To Allāh belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills. He bestows female (offspring) upon whom He wills, and bestows male (offspring) upon whom He wills. Or He bestows both males and females, and He renders barren whom He wills. Verily, He is the All-Knower and is Able to do all things [Surah Ash-Shura, 42:49-50]

For those who tell others or question others about their having kids or not having kids, please dont make it difficult for others. If you cannot make others life easy, you dont have any right to make it difficult. Those who have kids must always thank the Almighty and remember that kids are not only a gift but also a big test from Allah.

“O you who have believed, let not your wealth and your children divert you from remembrance of Allah” (Al-Munafiqun 63:9)

Let us be thankful for whatever we have and let us be better human beings. Let us make life easy for others. Let us make a better world.

Book Introduction – Lucknow Boy: A Memoir (Vinod Mehta)

Just finished reading the autobiography – Lucknow Boy: A Memoir, of veteran Journalist Late Vinod Mehta. Vinod Mehta (31 May 1942 – 8 March 2015) was an Indian Journalist and Editor of several Indian newspapers as well as a fine political commentator. Vinod was from a refugee family from Peshawar who grew up in Lucknow. His memoir is divided into six chapters. There are times when Vinod gets too much candid about his and others personal life. Besides that, this autobiography is veritable source of so much about Indian Print Journalism, Journalists, Socialites, Cricketer and last but not least Politics and Politicians.

First Chapter: Hometown

First Chapter of the book is entitled “Hometown”. The chapter gives family details of Vinod. His father was a native of Peshawar. His father short service commission in the Army during World War II. In 1946 his father was transferred to Lucknow. At the time of partition, the family was in Lucknow. Studying at La Martiniere, Lucknow, he has described himself as below average student who would somehow pass and move to next class. In his own words “At school I was a hopeless pupil. Whether this was due to my stupidity or my casual approach, I cannot be sure. I had at that time only one goal: to somehow pass every year. If I failed I’d get a rocket from my parents. They did not seem particularly worried by the low grades I got. They were just relieved to see me move up the ladder one step at a time. The accumulation of knowledge, information, enlightenment, expertise – these attainments did not seem to me to be important or useful”.

He has talked about the hand to mouth survival of the family also “The Mehtas were a bicycle, rickshaw and tonga family. I never got brand new clothes and all my winter wear was hand-me-downs from my grandfather or elder brother. Shorts, generally white, and shirts were the only original items I received. My grandfather’s elegant and stylish suits went first to my father, then to my elder brother, and by the time they came to me they were in pretty bad shape”.

In this chapter, Vinod fondly talks about his school buddies Saeedan Naqvi (well-known Indian journalist Saeed Naqvi), Azad (Buniya) Khan and Ashok Kwatra. There are great details of Ganjing. Ganjing in Lucknow means fooling around in Hazratganj. Hazratganj is Lucknow’s high street famous for Kwality and Royal Café besides other high-end shops. Even today Ganjing is a favourite pastime of young boys and girls in Lucknow. This chapter contains lots of interesting facts as well as stories of people from the Lucknow of 1950’s. Two characters stand out: Safdar and Gianibhai.

According to Vinod “In the Lucknow of the 60’s, we asked some fundamental questions with respect to an individual. Was he a bore or was he funny? Could he spin a decent yarn and keep us entertained? Did he know one or two girls? Could we get a good meal at his house? Was he prepared to make the odd (minor) sacrifice for his mates? Could he be trusted? A human being’s worth was measured by the aforementioned prerequisites rather his father’s name or how and where he prayed, or where he came from”.

Safdar fitted the bill perfectly. He had talent to amuse which was considered vital for anybody in Lucknow. There is a story where a Doctor who used to drive his car very carefully and slowly offered a ride to which Safdar replied “No thank you, I am in a hurry”.

Gianibhai was a tall gentle Sikh who quoted Ghalib frequently and sold open air tandoori food. After partition lots of Sikhs came from Pakistan and settled in Lucknow. The language of the refugees was in stark contrast to the stylized and refined language used in the Lucknow of 1950’s and 60’s. That was too much for Ghalib quoting Gianibhai who lamented that “Saale Sardaron ne Lucknow ko tabah kar diya”. The irony is self-evident and immensely poignant.

For Mehta secularism was a lived reality. He describes himself as “I breathed the secularism they talk of, the composite culture flows in my veins, the syncretic tradition is something, I observed daily as I rode my bicycle from Firangi Mahal to Sanyal Club. I didn’t pick secularism from books or at university or from protest demos. For me it was a lived reality”.

Second Chapter: Passage to England

It was at the insistence of his friend Azad who was in England and encouraged him to come to England. Apparently it the lure of the swinging London which prompted him to finally make up his mind to go to England. Mehta went to England hoping that Azad will look after him. However, he got the shock of his life. Azad fixed a job for him where he had to pick up a load of heavy rods and cut them to size on a machine. It was pure physical work. While describing his first job, Mehta describes as to how he went to his job wearing a suit on first day without realizing that it is going to be a physical work. He describes is disappointment with Azad.

Mehta went on to live in England for eight years before returning to India. The rest of the chapter is about his years in England. There are fairly detailed accounts of how Mehta had several affairs and even a daughter from one of the affairs, a daughter whom he never met and does not know, and this is the only thing in life about which Mehta shows some sadness. The second chapter also details as to how his prowess in table tennis came in handy. He became part of Thames Valley Table Tennis League. This allowed him to not only earn precious money but also allowed him to travel to various parts of the country to play tournaments. An additional bonus was tea and sandwiched which were served after the match. He reports that Kingston won the Thames Valley League for two years in a row.

Third Chapter: Bombay Masala

Third chapter contains the phase of Mehta’s life after return from London. This chapter is all about Vinod Mehta the Editor of Newspaper after Newspaper. However, it does carry a few details of his stay in Bombay. For example, as to how he posed as boyfriend of a prostitute for her sister’s marriage and got paid 200 rupees by the prostitute. The chapter also details about his first book “Bombay – A Private View” and how it sold like hot cake. After the publication of first book he got assignment to write a biography of Meena Kumar who had recently passed away. The chapter also details about how he got his first chance to edit a magazine – Debonair. This chapter also gives us snippets about of Ruskin Bond, Khushwant Singh, Kuldeep Nayyar, Abu Abraham, Iqbal Masood, Anil Dharkar, Girilal Jain, Rafiq Zakaria, Saeed Mirza, Arun Shourie, Satyajit Ray, Ramnath Goenka, Kabir Bedi to name a few. The chapter also gives details about how he ended up writing another biography – this time on Sanjay Gandhi. The biography named ‘The Sanjay Story’ was written without a single meeting with Sanjay Gandhi. The chapter also throughs light on how much Nehru detested Feroze Gandhi. The reason given by Mehta for leaving Debonair is quite interesting. According to Mehta he decided to leave Debonair after Atal Bihari Vajpayee told him that ‘Your magazine is very good, but I have to keep it under the pillow’.

The chapter also gives interesting details as to how he launched Sunday Observer and the scoop about Girilal Jain getting gift of 3000 F-Series debentures of Reliance from Dhirubhai Ambani. There are details of Vijaypat Singhania and the re launch of Indian Post. The details of Mehta leaving Indian Post is interesting read. It was Ramakrishna Hedge who told him about the plan of Vijaypat Singhania to sell the paper. Hedge claimed that Vijaypat gave this information to Vajpayee on a flight and that’s how information passed to Mehta. According to Mehta it was pressure from Satish Sharma and R. K. Dhawan that forced Vijaypat to take the drastic decision. The next job was to launch a new newspaper – Independent. The story about the launch of Independent is quite interesting giving details of inside tussles in the Times of India group. However, he could not continue in the new job for long. It was a piece on CIA having a mole in Indira Cabinet that got Mehta undone. Independent reported that CIA payed $20000 hinted at a mole in Indira Gandhi’s Cabinet selling secrets to CIA. The suspected mole was Morarji Desai. The Independent based on its own sources wrote that it was Y. B. Chawan. However, the political uproar resulted in his resignation within one month of starting the newspaper. Independent had to publish another story saying that they made a mistake by taking the name of Y. B. Chawan.  To resign from two newspapers within such a short time earned him the title of carelessness. The rest of the chapter gives details about the planning by the Tata Group to set up a trust and start a newspaper and how the plan was dropped at the last minute.

Fourth Chapter: Interesting Times

Chapter four is called “Interesting Times” and carries in great details about Mehta starting Delhi edition of Pioneer. The chapter gives in details the circumstances in which he had to leave Pioneer and the launch of Outlook. When Outlook was launched the Numero Uno of English magazine in the country was India Today. To challenge India Today was madness. But Mehta not only challenged India Today but even forced India Today to change a few things in its design and publication. It was finally at Outlook that Mehta was able to work for long and create a formidable magazine. There are many stories about Outlook. My favourite was how Outlook broke the news of betting in Cricket. It was a big story which shook the world of cricket like never before. There are details of Azharuddin, Kapil Dev, Manoj Prabhakar and Ajay Jadeja. Mehta’s assessment given in the book is that Kapil Dev was indeed involved but he was too big a icon to be cut to size.

The rest of the chapter is about India’s Nuclear Detonation and its repercussions. It talks about Arundhati Roy’s article in Outlook on Nuclear Detonation. I remember buying Outlook only to read that piece. It indeed showed the command which Arundhati has over the English language. The chapter also details as to how Nirmal Verma refused to write review of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s poetry calling it work of a well meaning amateur. There are some interesting details about Brijesh Mishra and Vajpayee and how RSS wanted Brijesh out and how Vajpayee resisted and prevailed. Mehta goes on to talk about income tax raids on Outlook and how Yashwant Sinha promised and stopped harassment of Outlook by Income Tax Department. The story of 2004 general elections and Shashi Tharoor shot at UN highest post are good read. The story of Aishwarya Rai’s marriage with tree is also good read.  However, besides expose of spot fixing the other very interesting read in this chapter is about Niira Radia tapes and its expose by the Outlook. The chapter talks in detail about Niira Radia, A. Raja, Kanimozhi, Ratan Tata. It also gives certain excerpts of telephonic talk between Niira Radia and A. Raja, Kanimozhi, Ratan Tata, Burkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi. This chapter is definitely spiciest one.

Fifth Chapter: Sweeper’s Wisdom

This chapter is full of advice for journalist and deals with topics like “should journalists take freebies?”, “Should a journalist always carry a resignation letter in his pocket?”, ‘What should a journalist to if he is put on page Three beat”, “Should a journalist try and be a rebel?” This chapter is good for would be journalists.

Sixth Chapter: Some People

The sixth chapter which is the last one is entitled “Some People” talks about some important people in Mehta’s personal and professional life. In this chapter he talks about his grandfather and Mohit Sen from personal point of view. There are anecdotes about V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Shobha De and Sonia Gandhi.

The book is written in very candid and irreverent style and is a pleasure to read. The language used is very simple and does not require dictionary to go through it. It is definitely a must read for anybody who aspired to be a journalist. There are lot of things to connect for those who have lived through 80’s, 90’s and the first decade of the 21st Century in India or who are interested in Indian Politics. The book also shed light, though in bits and pieces, on the relationship of Journalists to Businessmen and Politicians.

Publisher: Penguin / Viking

Year of Publication: 2011

Hardbound.

Price: 499 Indian Rupees.

Pages: 325

 

 

Hajj 1441: A Unique Hajj

Hajj is one of the five fundamentals of Islam. It is mandatory on every able Muslims once in lifetime. I was also planning Hajj this year. Alas, it was not to be. InshaAllah some other time. This year’s Hajj is unprecedented in many ways. The menace of corona virus has left nothing untouched. The Hajj 2020 is no exception. There have been years in history when Hajj could not take place due to war, famine or other factors. It seemed that this year also Hajj would be cancelled due to the circumstances. It came as good news that Hajj was not cancelled.

However, it was not Hajj as usual. This is dramatically different Hajj due to the global pandemic. Millions from all over the globe converge in Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj every year. Last year 2.5 million performed Hajj. However, this year only 10000 people were allowed to perform the five day pilgrimage. These 10000 are the ones who have been chosen through a lottery system. The criteria for selection was giving representation of as many nationalities as possible. People from 160 different nationalities performed Hajj this year. Those from different nationalities selected to perform Hajj this year were from among the foreigners working and residing in Saudi Arabia. Nobody from outside the Kingdom was allowed. The basic criteria for selection was good health. Besides those who were selected were tested for corona virus and were quarantined for one-week prior to Hajj. The pilgrims will undergo a second quarantine after the end of the Hajj. All the pilgrims had to wear mask. One could very well see in live broadcast from Mecca that physical distancing was maintained during Tawaaf, Sayi and Salaat. Kissing or touching the Kaaba or black stone was also not allowed. Even the pebbles used for symbolic stoning of the devil was different this time around. Pilgrims were not allowed to collect pebbles. Pilgrims got special pouches with sanitised stones kept in them.

Hajj is usually a huge media event with press and television channels present from around the world to cover the pilgrimage. But this year the foreign media was not allowed. Usually Hajj costs a lot but this year all the expenses from lodging to food were borne by Saudi Arabian Government. Economically Hajj is estimated to contribute almost $12 billion every year to Saudi coffers. This is lost economic opportunity for the Kingdom. Definitely not the right time for the loss. The Hajj supports a host of economic activities from ticket booking, to hotel, to airlines, to barbers, to gold businesses, to dates businesses, to souvenirs businesses, to restaurant businesses and what not?

It was rightly mentioned in the Hajj Khutba (Sermon) that ‘No matter how difficult circumstances may become in this world, those difficulties do not last forever. Allah’s mercy is always more expansive, and the relief He grants is always near”.

Let us pray that Hajj takes place next year will all its glory and pilgrims from all over the world are able to freely participate in it. Ameen.

For more information and references, please see:

Book Introduction: Lost White Tribes: The End of Privilege and the Last Colonials in Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Brazil, Haiti, Namibia, and Guadeloupe – Riccardo Orizio

We can all become minorities. We are all potentially irrelevant” – Riccardo Orizio.

It was almost 400 years ago that first European Colonialists set foot in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Over next 100 years these places were converted into permanent colonial outposts serving their colonial masters in far off lands. It also meant loss of sovereignty for locals and a life of second-class citizenship for the natives. This process continued till the WWII when one by one these colonial outposts crumbled giving way to independence to the suppressed. At this point the European colonizers were either forced to leave or stayed back because they had no choice. In some cases, they decided to stay back and cling to old system such as in Zimbabwe or even further tighten their hold like in South Africa.

Almost everywhere they have lost the privileges of the past. Today many of them are in neither land. They hang out to their past weaving myth with reality blaming everybody for their fall. Mostly they marry amongst themselves for the purity of race and purity of fair skin. They are torn between the memories and pride of past privileges and the need of the present to accept their fate and integrate with the wider community around them. It is this dilemma of being a member of a fast vanishing post-colonial tribe that Lost White Tribes captures very well. The book covers white Colonizers, Settlers, and Slaves in six different countries.

Sri Lanka: Dutch Burghers of Ceylon

The first chapter takes Orizio to Sri Lanka where he contacted the descendants of the Dutch and Portuguese community. First the Portuguese arrived in Ceylon some 400 hundred years ago due to the possession of world map. a community that arrived in Sri Lanka about 400 years ago with Dutch East India Company, VOC and with Portuguese before that. They are called Burghers.

Ceylon was known all over the world for Nutmeg, Pepper and Cloves. The Portuguese used to trade in these commodities before the Dutch ended their supremacy in the trade in 1602 by forming VOC or Vereenigde Oost-Indische Vompagnie. By 1670 VOC became the richest company that the world had seen by that time. It had 50000 employees and an army of 30000 to safeguard the 200 VOC ships plying in the high seas. For years VOC paid its shareholders annual dividend equal to almost 40 percent of their investment. This supremacy continued for close to 200 years before new colonial power, England, took reigns from them.

At the end of colonialism when Sri Lanka gained independence the most Burghers decided to stay back. However, soon Sinhalese replaced English as the language on radio and government records and the Burghers suddenly started losing out. While they lost their language, they did not learn the Sinhalese, the National language of Sri Lanka. Rather they continued converse in English. Today many of them live in dilapidated mansions which their forefathers built during good days. So many of them survive on small time jobs but they fiercely cling to their proud memories. The burghers were called by the Persian word parangi which means “ugly, disfiguring infection of the skin”. There are many other derogatory terms reserved for them in all the languages spoken in Sri Lanka – English, Sinhalese and Tamil. Despite most of them living a penury and just able to eek out a living for themselves, they are still divided into high class and low class. As the author says that “sometimes the game of insults in played inside the Burgher community, where to define different shades of skin color is essential for denoting social status”.

For me reading the chapter on Burghers settled a few things. Some of the exotic Sri Lankan names always amazed me. Now I know their Dutch origin.

Jamaica: German Slaves

In the second chapter of the book, the author introduces us to Germans in Jamaica. This was most surprising for me. I never thought in my life that Germans were taken as workers from Germany to Jamaica to work on plantations. But here also the common theme is the skin color. Alas how much we are obsessed with skin colour. As somebody points out that Jamaica is “the most ethnically diverse nation in the world. For centuries we’ve been a mixture of white, black, Chinese, Arab. Yet class distinction still persists, and how! All based on the color of your skin….Do you know we have seventeen different definitions for at least twelve different shades of skin, from white white to black black. Each color has its name: Quadroon, Quintroon, Octoroon etcetera. And the destiny of each is predetermined”.

When slavery was abolished in Jamaica, there was a shortage of labour. One Gentleman, Lord Seaford who owned farms established a European settlement by bringing Germans to fill the gap. Today most of Jamaicans with German ancestry do not speak German. However German words have found their way in the language. Similarly, German surnames such as Bunnaman, Gardner, Somers, Wedemeyer etc. have found their usage in Jamaica.

The condition of Germans who first arrived in Jamaica is depicted in a letter published in Germany in 1835 according to which Germans “immediately saw that the firewood was unusable and the water was undrinkable. Over the following weeks we realized that if would be impossible to grow food on these mountains, But we were ordered, nevertheless, to build our huts on that poor, infertile soil. Now we never have enough food to eat. And we continue to suffer”.

However, with passage of time, many traveled further to USA and Canada. Those who were left in Jamaica are today part of the society.

Brazil: Confederates in Deepest Brazil

Third chapter takes the author to Brazil. These days we are hearing news everyday of confederate flags being banned or confederate statues and other confederate signs being brought down all over USA. It all started during American Civil War. In the aftermath of the American Civil War, quite a large number of families in the Southern States decided to move other parts of America. However, there were a number of families which decided to leave America for good. They found the abolition of slavery bothersome. Many Americans from Southern states of Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama migrated further south to Brazil rather than being subject to “damned Yankees”. Brazil was an ideal place. It was prospering under the leadership of Dom Pedro. It had abundance of Cotton, Sugarcane, Coffee and Slaves. Slavery was still legal in Brazil. They sailed from New Orleans to Rio de Janeiro (the river of January). They were welcomed in Brazil. These migrants are called Confederates or Confederados in Portuguese. Confederates mostly settled in Santa Barbara d’Oeste, Americana and Nova Odessa.

Even today in the countryside around Santa Barbara, Confederados still come once a year to celebrate the epopeia norte americana (the epic adventure that bought them from North America). It was reading this chapter that I realised that the word Pao roti or Pao in Urdu comes from Portuguese word Pao which means loaf. One of the most famous mountains in Brazil is Pao de Acucar i.e. Sugar Loaf Mountain.

Haiti: Papa Doc’s Poles

Chapter four deals with the poles who were sent by Napoleon Bonaparte to quell rebellion in Haiti. In 1794 the plantation owners in the French colony refused to accept the decision to abolish slavery in Saint Domingue. On the other hand, black slaves rebelled hoping that France would support them. However, it was too important an asset for France to lose. Half of France’s sea trade was with her colony of Saint-Domingue. Saint-Domingue is what is Haiti now. Many ports in France depended on the cargoes of Coffee, indigo, cocoa, cotton and sugar that came from Saint-Domingue. Because of its riches it was called “Pearl of the Antilles”. France would not let go of this profitable trade so easily. It was to quell this rebellion that soldiers were sent from France by Napoleon Bonaparte which included Poles also. However, as the story goes, the Poles sided with the Haitians. For their help in supporting the locals against colonialists, the Poles were given Haitian Nationality after its Independence. The poles are often referred as Europe’s White Negros. There cannot be any talk of Haiti without Voodoo. This chapter gives numerous examples of how people believe in magic and how voodoo magic has been used by several rulers of Haiti to influence the population.

The author starts his journey from Port-au-Prince in search of Poles in Haiti in August 1996. . His search takes him to Casales. A number of Poles who came to quell rebellion settled in Casales away from the Capital city. On reaching there the found that Haiti’s “Little Lost Poland” is a “village similar to hundreds of others on top of a bare mountain”. There is no road, no electricity, no phone, no running water, no nurse, no cars, no school and no Church. The only Church which was dedicated to St. Michel had fallen by that time. Walls of the houses are made of dried mud or plaited straw while the roofs are made of banana leaves. The author wonders as to “how on earth hundreds of European officers and men with origins in the sophisticated culture of early eighteenth-century Poland were apparently incapable of forming a more advanced rural society”. Still the author found that the villagers were hopeful that one day somebody from Poland would come and help the “Papa Doc’s white negroes”.

It was in 1803 that the French were defeated at the hands of the slaves and many were killed. However, the Poles were sparred. Not only sparred, they were offered citizenship of Haiti. A few requested permissions to go back to Poland which was granted. Overall, the chapter is full of personal details and stories of Poles in Haiti and gives an overview of Polish presence in Haiti.

Namibia: How the Basters Lost the Promised Land

In chapter five, the author takes us to Namibia. The only Namibian names that I knew as child were Sam Nujoma and SWAPO. Beyond this my knowledge of Namibia was next to nothing. Lately when Namibia started playing cricket, names of two cricketers caught my attention. The reason being that they did not sound like typical Namibian names. They are Bernard Scholtz and Nicolaas Scholtz. After reading this chapter, I understand that are German Namibians.

The name Baster is derived from the Dutch word Baster which means Bastard. However, it is taken as a badge of honour by basters and not as a shame. The name was given to highlight the crossbreeding between white Male Europeans and Black Female form South Africa. Basters migrated from South Africa and speak Afrikaans.

The author goes to Rehoboth, the main Baster settlement in Namibia. Rehoboth means “street” in Hebrew. The chapter is full of details of how Germans settled in Rehoboth. Baster’s in Rehoboth established their own governance system with the chief being called Kaptein as early as 1870’s before the Germans came in and established their colonial rule over Namibia in 1885. The German government even entered into an agreement with the Baster’s. The rest of the details are about how the Basters moved from the South Africa and how they established Rehoboth. There are fairly detailed accounts of the various fights that took place and the important tribes such as Herero and Hottentots and accounts of important players such as Abraham Swartbooi and Hermanus Van Wyk, I don’t know why but reading about Basters reminded me of Anglo Indians.

Guadeloupe: Blancs Matignon, the Sugarcane Dukes

In the last chapter, chapter six, the author takes us to the Caribbeans. The Blancs Matignon are descendants of settlers in the Grands Fonds, Guadeloupe. It is difficult for anybody to tell accurately as to why their ancestors came from France. As one of the Matignon says “I know they were escaping from something or someone, but no more than that”. With the passage of time, the Blancs Matignon have moved upwards in the mountains cutting off contact with the rest of the world. In order to maintain their supposedly high society blood purity, they have even resorted to incestuous relationships which puts them at odds with the wider society. The stigma also results in discrimination against them. Orizio finds a group of people who live the past and are presently poor. A group of people who have strict codes of marriage and anybody who dares to marry outside is out caste and may lose all rights to inheritance. They live in their own make-believe world and talk of Aristocracy and high class and do not marry even other whites on the island believing them to be lesser in class. Still Orizio is able to find examples of shackles being broken and slowly but surely change coming their way as the story of Emile clearly shows. It is also true that Matignon’s face discrimination from the wider society as Emile conforms the discrimination he faced as a child.

In the past they used to grow sugarcane but with passage of time land holdings have become small due to inheritance being divided into children and thus the poverty. They are among the poorest on the island but cling to their make-believe world of Aristocratic fantasy. The reality is entirely different. According to Orizio “they create nothing, they possess nothing, not even the colour of their skin. They are happy waking up every morning in the knowledge that they are still children of the high plateau”.

Conclusion:

This is one of the better books that I have read in a while. The narration keeps the reader engaged. It is part anthropology, part history, part travelogue, part sociology all in one. There are places where the explanation is bit prolonged but that often happens in well researched books. Except for the Burghers of Sri Lanka, I found it difficult to agree with the title of the book. The rest of the tribes described do not fit the typical framework of Colonials. Overall a well-researched and well written book. After reading the book one realizes how little we know about this world.

Hardcover: 270 pages

Publisher: The Free Press / Simon & Schuster, First Edition 2001. ISBN 0-7432-1197-9.

Language: English. (Translated by Avril Bardoni).

From Hagia Sophia to Aya Sofya Cami

Just read the news that Hagia Sophia Museum has been reconverted into a Mosque through a Presidential order in Turkey. Hagia Sofia or “Holy Wisdom” is also known as Ayasofya Cami or Aya Sofya Mosque in Turkish. It is one of the most prominent cultural and religious landmarks in Istanbul or perhaps whole of Turkey. My mind raced back to 9 August 2019 when I along with my family visited this historic building along with my guide Serkan. We were part of small group which had only two families, mine, and a British couple. The British couple were with us during the first half of the tour which included visit to Ayup Sultan Turbesi, Pierre Loti, Spice Bazaar and Cruise on Bosphorus Strait. In the second half was included the Blue Mosque, Hippodrome and Aya Sofya. However, the British couple had already been to Aya Sofya earlier, so they decided to give it a skip effectively making my tour a private one. We had a very knowledgeable guide entirely for us. The queue outside Aya Sofya was serpentine but one of the privileges of having a guide in Turkey is that you jump queue, hence we were inside within 2 minutes.

It is one of the oldest standing religious structure in the world. It was the pride of Nova Roma or Constantinople and was a church for whole of Christianity for almost half a millennia before the divide between Eastern Orthodox Church and Catholic Church. It was founded in 537 which makes it almost 1000 years older to St. Peters Basilica in Vatican.  It was built in 537 during the reign of Emperor Justinian I. For centuries it was the largest dome in the world and the largest interior space in the world. It is justifiably considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture. It is said that on the completion of the Hagia Sophia when Justinian visited the Hagia Sophia for the first time he exclaimed with pride that “Solomon, I have outdone thee”.

Hagia Sophia was constructed first as a Church in 360 A.D by the Roman Empire. It was burned and reburned several times during uprisings. The present structure was constructed by the Byzantines in the 6th century on the orders of Emperor Justinian I. Over the years it was destroyed several times due to earthquakes and by Crusaders and was rebuilt several times. The structure is witness to the changes in history and its fortunes have also changed with the changes in power structure. It was a Byzantine Christian Church from 537 to 1054. From 1054 to 1204 it was Greek Orthodox Church. In 1204, it was converted into a Roman Church. In 1261 it was reconverted into Greek Orthodox Church and remained so till 1453 when it was converted into an Imperial Mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottomans who also renamed the city from Constantinople to Istanbul. It was given the name of Ayasofya Cami (Mosque of Ayasofya) by the Ottomans and minarates were added to it. It remained a Mosque from 1453 to 1935 when it was converted into a Museum during the time of Mustafa Kamal Ataturk. It has been converted back into a Mosque on 10 July 2020. Today it is also a final resting place for 5 Ottoman Sultans and their families.

After its conversion back to Mosque the entrance fees has been cancelled. It will still be open to all faiths. According to Erdogan “Like all our Mosques, its door will be open to everyone, Muslims or non-Muslims. As the world’s common heritage, Hagia Sophia with its new status will keep on embracing everyone in a more sincere way”. The first prayers in the Ayasofya Cami will be Friday prayers on 24th July 2020. It would not be out of place to remember that it was 24th July 1923 when the treaty in Switzerland’s city of  Lausanne ended the hostilities between the Allies and the Turkish state.

However, the debate continues whether this is a right decision or not from religious point of view and whether this was the right time for this decision? Those who know their history and have sense of today’s geo-politics can only be amused at the assertion of those who believe that the next step is the establishment of Ottoman Caliphate.

For references and more details, please see:

Mango and Urdu Poets: A sweet relationship

Mango enjoys an exalted status among fruits. It is for nothing that it is called the king of fruits. Being a popular fruit, mango has not escaped the attention of Urdu writers and poets. Urdu literature and poetry are full of couplets and stories about mango.

One of the finest exponents of Urdu Poetry, Mirza Ghalib, was a true connoisseur of mango. Ghalib’s love for mango was legendary. There are several stories about Ghalib related to mangoes. It is said that once Ghalib was eating (rather gorging) mangoes. Along with him was sitting a Doctor friend Hakim Raziuddin Khan. Hakim Sahib saw a donkey sifting through garbage. The donkey did not touch a heap of mangoes which was in the garbage. Hakim Sahib immediately pointed that “Look Mirza, even the donkey does not like mangoes”. Not the one to go let an opportunity, Ghalib replied in his imitable style “True, Hakim Sahib, only a donkey would not like a mongo”.

Once in a letter written to the Mutawalli (caretaker) of Calcutta’s (now Kolkata) Imambara, Ghalib wrote “Not only am I a slave to my stomach, I am a weak person as well. I desire that my table be adorned and that my soul be comforted. The wise ones know that both of these can be satisfied by mangoes”.  This was further stressed by the request to the caretaker to remember Ghalib twice or thrice before the end of mango season, though he worried that this may not be enough to comfort “your humble servant”.

Even at old age he had healthy appetite for mango. At the age of 60 he writes in a letter that he can no longer “eat more than ten or twelve at a sitting” and “if they are large ones, then a mere six or seven”. He also lamented that “Alas, the days of youth have gone, indeed, the days of life itself have come to an end”.

There is another beautiful story of Ghalib with Bahadur Shah Zafar (the last Mughal Emperor of India). Once Ghalib was accompanying Bahadur Shah Zafar in Baagh e Hayaat Bakhsh (Garden of Life. To be more precise Garden which increases life). The fruits of the garden were reserved for the nobility. Bahadur Shah Zafar saw Ghalib looking at mangoes with quite intensity and asked what he was looking at. Ghalib replied in Persian that he has heard the elders say that:

Bar sar-e har daana ba navishta Ayaan

Ka-een fulaan ibn e fulaan ibn e fulaan

(On every piece one can see written quite clearly
That this is for so-and-so, son of so-and-so, son of so-and-so)

He told the Emperor that he is trying to spot if any of his ancestor’s name is written on any mango. The Emperor got the message and the same day Ghalib got his share of mangoes from the Royal Orchard.

There is another story of Ghalib and mangoes. There was a gathering where virtues of mangoes were being discussed. One of the attendees, Maulana Fazl-e Haq asked Ghalib about his opinion about mangoes. Ghalib said that mangoes should have two qualities:

Aamo main buss do khubiyan honi chahiyen, ek methey hon aur bohot sarey hon” (For mango to be good, it should have two qualities. One is that they should be sweet and secondly, they should be plentiful).

It is not without reason that Ghalib even composed a masnavi (poem in rhythmic couplets) on mangoes. The masnavi is entitled “dar sifat e ambaah”

Mujhse poochho, tumhen khabar kya hai

Aam kea agey neyshakar kya hai

Ya ye hoga ke fart-e rafa’at se

Baagh baanon ne baagh e Jannat se

Angabeen ke, ba hukm-e rabb-in-naas

Bhar ke bheje hain sar ba mohar gilaas

(ask me! for what do you know?
a mango is far sweeter than sugarcane…
perhaps from the great heights above
the gardeners of heaven’s orchards
have sent, by the order of God
wine filled in sealed glasses)

Similarly, there are stories of Akbar Allahabadi related to mangoes. Once Akbar Allahabadi sent a box of choicest Langra (Langra means Lame in Urdu. It is also a variety of mango from Uttar Pradesh, India) to Allama Iqbal in Lahore. As a receipt, Iqbal sent Akbar Allahabadi a couplet:

Asar hai teri aijaz e masihaee ka ae Akbar

Allahabad se Langra chala Lahore tak pahuncha.

(Akbar, this is the miracle of your Jesus like healing powers. The lame traveled from Allahabad and has reached Lahore)

Akbar Allahabadi has written a whole poem called Aam Nama on mangoes wherein he is requesting a friend to send mangoes to him in Allahabad. The poem clearly shows how much Akbar Allahabadi enjoyed mangoes. He writes:

Nama na koi yaar ka paigham bhejiye

Is fasl main jon bhejiye bas aam bhejiye

Aisa zaroor ho ke unhen rakh ke kha sakun

Pukhta agar bees to das khaam bhejiye

Maloom hi hai aap ko bandey ka address

Sedhey Allahabad merey naam bhejiye

Aisa no ho kea ap ye likhen jawab main

Tameel hogi pahley magar daam bhejiye

(O beloved do not send any messages

This season if you want to send just send mangoes

I should be able to keep them and eat

If twenty are ripe ten should be raw

You know the address of yours truly

Send them directly to my address at Allahabad

It should not so happen that you reply

That you will follow my order but first I should send the money)

 

Other poets or Urdu have also paid their tribute to mango and have shown their love for the king of fruits. Contemporary Urdu poet Munawwar Rana describes how he does not eat sweets during the season of mango through this couplet:

Insaan ke hathon ki banayi nahin khatey

Hum aam ke Mausam main mithai nahin khatey

(I do not eat what is made by mere mortals

In the season of mango, I do not eat sweets)

 

At another place, Munawwar Rana compares his love for mangoes to that of Ghalib:

 

Allah jaanta hai mohabbat hamin ne ki

Ghalib ke baad aamon ki izzat hamin ne ki

(Allah knows that only I fulfilled the conditions of love

After Ghalib, its me who gave honour to mango)

Another pre Independence poet Akhtar Shirani has written a whole poem on mango. He has described life of an exile away from home who is missing mango in its season. He writes:

O des se aaney waley bata

Kya aam ke unchey pedon par

Ab bhi wo papihey boltey hain

Sakhon ke hariri pardon main

Naghmon ke khazaney gholtey hain

Sawan ke rasiley giton se

Talab main amras gholtey hain

O des se aaney waley bata

(O the one who has come from home tell

On the tall trees of mango

Does the cuckoo still croons

Does the magic of song melts?

In the silken curtains of the branches

Do the songs of rainy season still

Melt like the sweetness of mango in the pond

O the one who has come from home tell)

 

Urdu literature and poetry are full of poems, letters, stories and phrases on mango. This only reflects the importance of mango in the popular Indian Culture. According to Saghar Khayyami:

Aam teri ye khush nasibi hai

Warna lagnron pe kaun marta hai

(Mango it is your good luck

Otherwise who loves a lame)

Note: It is very difficult to represent the subtleties of Urdu poetry in English translation. I have tried to be as literal as possible. I hope that I have somewhat managed the task. Readers are requested to suggest improvements. I shall be grateful.

Urdu goes Hi-Tech: Mirza Ghalib meets Jeff Bezos

On June 5, 2020, Rekhta Foundation launched its Amazon Alexa Skill enabling Urdu lovers to enjoy Urdu poetry on Alexa. It allows lovers of Urdu poetry to enjoy hundreds of Urdu couplets by master poets by simple voice command. Connoisseurs will be able to enjoy this service on both Amazon Echo Range as well as Alexa enabled devices. At initial stage, it allows one to listen to almost 1000 poetry tracks from about 50 poets. To make it easy for users, the Urdu couplets have been arranged according to poets and genre like poetry on sadness, love etc.

It can be used by giving commands in both English and Urdu by simply saying “Alexa open Rekhta” or “Alexa, Rekhta Shuru karo”. It can also be used according to poet, genre or mood. example, simply telling it “Alexa, tell me a love shayari” will enable Alexa to play love shayari. At the launch of the service, the Country Manger Alexa Skills and Voice Services, India, Mr. Dilip R.S. said that “With over 1000 Shayaris to choose from, we are exited about Rekhta’s new Alexa Skill and believe it is a great way for poetry lovers to enjoy their favourite Shayaris in a hassle-free manner through simple voice commands at the comforts of their homes”.

According to Mr. Sanjeev Saraf, founder Rekhta Foundation, “With changing times, the ever-increasing charm of poetry has reached personal devices and Echo devices and Alexa-enabled smart devices perfectly fit the environment of personal leisure time. We are pleased to bring this home for the lovers of the language”.

This is a novel experiment and the need of the times. This will allow larger audience to benefit from vast collection of Urdu poetry. This may very well become a wonderful opportunity to promote the language with the help of technology. I am exited and looking forward to using this. Indeed, exciting times for Urdu and Urdu lovers.

For more information and references, Please see:

 

 

 

 

Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy cries out for help

Darul Musannefin popularly known as Shibli Academy or Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy is a research institution based in the Indian city of Azamgarh. The idea of a residential academy where scholars can stay and undertake quality research was conceived by Allama Shibli Nomani (3 June 1857 – 18 November 1914). Shibli Nomani bequeathed his property at Azamgarh city for the purpose. Besides his relative also donated their share of the property. Today the Academy is situated in 23172.67 square meters campus. The campus has a library, meeting hall, mosque, mango orchard, press and staff quarters.

The purpose of Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy is to:

  • Nurture and sustain a body of scholarly authors.
  • To provide a congenial environment for scholars to create, compile and translate literary works of high scholastic and historical value.
  • To undertake printing and publication of the literary works of the Academy.

The Darul Musannefin since its establishment has nurtured a body of scholars of repute. It provides a congenial academic environment for scholars to create, compile and translate high quality literary work. So far it has published more than 250 high quality books. Some of the best-known books of Darul Musannefin are ‘Seerat -un- Nabi’, ‘Al Farooq’ and ‘Seerat- e- Aisha’.

The Darul Musannefin also publishes a widely reputed Urdu monthly ‘Maarif’. The first issue of Maarif was published in July 1916. The journal has already completed 100 years of uninterrupted publication. At present, it is the longest surviving Urdu journal in the world.

The Press Information Bureau of  Government of India, on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee celebration of the Academy, described it as “Moulded in the scholarly tradition of India’s ancient centres of learning, the Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy, in the old Azamgarh town of Uttar Pradesh, has taken its place alongside some known modern research institutions. The small band of devoted scholars in the Academy, who preferred the pursuit of knowledge to the lure of status, comforts or emoluments which could have been theirs for the asking, recalls the glory of the ancient scholars of Nalanda, Cairo, Taxila and Transoxiana.”

Among its admirers Shibli Academy can count stalwarts as Allama Sir Mohammad Iqbal, Maulana Abul Kalaam Azad, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Pandit Motilal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Zakir Hussain. The present president of the Academy is Hamid Ansari (Former Vice President of India).

To show support to the Academy prominent personalities became life members. Some of the important life members of the Academy were Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, Maulana Abdul Kalaam Azad, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, Nawab Hamidullah Khan.

In the past prominent political and intellectual personalities made it a point to visit Academy. Some of the prominent personalities who have paid visit to the Academy are Mahatma Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, Maulana Hasrat Mohani, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Ram Manohar Lohia, Suchitra Kriplani, Chaudhary Charan Sigh, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Bi Amman, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, Sarojini Naidu, Dr. Zakir Hussain, V.V. Giri, V.P. Sigh, Professor Sir Ziauddin, Professor Abdul Salaam (Nobel Laurate), Rahul Gandhi and Hamid Ansari to name a few.

Before Independence, Shibli Academy got valuable monetary support from the Princely states of Bhopal and Hyderabad. Particularly, the Begum of Bhopal was an important patron of the Academy. However, these sources dried up after Independence of India. Despite offers from the Government of India, the Academy opted not become a government organisation so as not to lose its independence of thought. Presently, due to a variety of reasons, the Academy is in dire financial situation. Had it been about construction of a Mosque or supporting a Madrasa, it would have been much easier to generate funds. However, people usually do not understand the importance of a research institution or a think tank. Hence, the lukewarm response of the community towards the Academy. The people at the helm of affairs are trying to tide out of the present precarious situation. Since the Academy survives purely on the donations received from the general public and does not have any permanent income stream, the present administration is trying to build a corpus fund. The idea is to make the Academy financially sustainable so as to reduce the need to go to the community again and again for support. However, due to certain factors, particularly the lockdown, the Academy’s finances are really stressed out. So much so that the April salaries were delayed by 15 days, perhaps first time in almost 106 years of its proud existence. The Director of the Academy, Professor Ishtiyaq Ahmad Zilli, has appealed to the community for help. The Academy is in precarious situation. I am appealing you to kindly help in whatever way you can.

There are several ways to financially help the Academy. Some of them are:

  • Become life member of the Academy
  • Buy books published by the Academy
  • Direct monetary contribution. Monetary contribution can be either one-time lump sum amount (no amount is small. Even 100 Indian Rupees would be helpful). The other more sustainable method is to give standing instruction to your bank to transfer a particular amount every month to the Academy (Again no amount is small. Most of the banks accept standing orders of minimum 100 Indian Rupees per month). It would not be out of place to mention that the Indian contributions to the Academy get tax benefit under 80C. The Academy also has permission to receive funds from outside India.

For those who would like to contribute directly to the Academy, the Account details are as follows:

Account Name: DARUL MUSANNEFIN SHIBLI ACADEMY

General Account No: 4761005500000051

IFSC Code: PUNB0476100

Foreign Account No: 0504010100046001

IFSC Code: PUNB0476100

Bank Name and Address: Punjab National Bank, Heerapatti, Azamgarh.

For further details the website of the Academy can be visited at:

website: www.shibliacademy.org

The administrators of the Academy may be contacted at:

E-mail: shibli_academy@rediffmail.com

info@shibliacademy.org

Note: Please forward the post to your friends. You never know who may help.

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Pandit Anand Mohan Zutshi ‘Gulzaar Dehlvi’

The news of death of veteran Urdu Poet Pandit Anand Mohan Zutshi ‘Gulzar Dehlvi’ was received with sadness by the lovers of Urdu language. Gulzar Dehlvi passed away on 12 June 2020 at his Noida home. He was 93 years and 11 months old at the time of his death. In fact, he contacted coronavirus and was admitted to a hospital. Five days ago he was declared as free of the virus. But his frail body could not fully recover from the trauma. According to doctors, he most probably died of cardiac arrest.

Gulzar Dehlvi was born on 7 July 1926 in Gali Kahmireeyan in Delhi. He was a freedom fighter and also a journalist. A Kashmiri Pandit, he was nephew of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the First Prime of India. He was a good friend of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the First Education Minister of India. He served as the first editor of the first Urdu Science Magazine ‘Science ki Dunya’ which was launched in 1975. Science ki Dunya was the only Science Magazine in Urdu to be published by the Government of India. On his 91st birthday he was honoured by the then Vice President of India, Janab Hamid Ansari, for his contribution to Urdu language.

He came from a family of Urdu lovers. His father, Pandit Tribhuvan Nath ‘Zaar’ Dehlvi was a teacher of Urdu and Persian languages at the Delhi University for around 40 years. For his dedication to the twin languages, Pandit Tribhuvan received the public title of ‘molvi sahib’. According to Gulzar Dehlvi, his father Zaar Dehlvi was a disciple of famous Mughal Poet Daagh Dehlvi.

It is said that he had no equal when it came to knowing the Delhi of Mir and Ghalib. He was not only a par excellence Urdu poet but also embodied the Urdu culture. Always attired in Sherwani with Nehru cap he was always present in every important Mushaira in Delhi. His love for Urdu was returned by public by their love for him which was evident from the rapturous applause which was always reserved for him whenever his name was called in any Mushaira in Delhi. It is sheer coincidence that just a few days ago i was listening to his parody of Allama Iqbal’s famous Sarey Jahan se Acha Hindustan Hamara. His loss has created a void which would be impossible to fill. In his own words:

Mere baad aaney walon, meri baat yaad rakhna

Mere naqshey pa se behtar koi raasta nahin hai 

Gulzar  aabroo-e-zuban ab hami se hai
Dilli me apne baad yeh lutf-e-sukhan  kahan.

 

For References and for more information, see:

Langkawi – A journey to the rain-forest paradise

On my Malaysia trip, Langkawi was last destination in the itinerary. From Kuala Lumpur we took Air Asia flight to Langkawi. The check in and the rest of the procedure was very smooth. Air Asia is a budget airline and hence the limit on check in luggage. We realized at the counter that we had a few kilograms more luggage then permitted. There was a lengthy line behind me and I decided to pay so as not to inconvenience others. However, the lady at the counter was very considerate and told us to step aside and rearrange our luggage. She even assigned another lady to assist us in doing so. That was such a nice gesture. The flight was one hour and five minutes. We were the only tourists in that flight. The rest were locals. Since it was a budget airline, we had to pay for water and food. I ordered some sandwiches along with the famous Malaysian tea: Teh Tarik. Teh Tarik means pulled tea. The origins of Teh Tarik are traced to Indian Muslim immigrants who traditionally set up tea stalls outside rubber plantations after World War II to serve workers there. It is prepared by pouring the tea back and forth from one vessel to another from height (the reason why it is called pulled tea) thus creating froth. Today it is the national drink of Malaysia and has been declared as national heritage of Malaysia. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea as it is on the sweater side. It was the best Teh Tarik in my entire stay in Malaysia. The first thing I did on return flight to Kuala Lumpur was to order Teh Tarik. In Muscat, it is available at Bread Talk where I go once in a while to enjoy my cup of Teh Tarik.

Before we could finish our sandwiches and tea, there was announcement of landing. Langkawi from above looked magical. Full of greenery and beaches everywhere. The Langkawi airport is very small airport and has a very provincial look. We finished with the procedures and baggage within 20 minutes. It was such a relief after navigating through the big and bustling airport at Kuala Lumpur. For Langkawi, I had not engaged any tourist agency for my trip. We engaged a taxi from outside the airport. It took us about 20 minutes to reach the hotel. The road to the hotel from the airport was lush green on both sides. Since it was rainy season everything was fresh. At times it felt like we are inside a jungle. The air was very cool and fresh. Good beginning to a new place.

View of the bay from the Hotel Room, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

Eagle Square

Once at hotel we all decided to take shower, lunch and some sleep in that order. After one hour of sleep we were ready to hit the town. Our first stop was Dataran Lang or Eagle Square. Eagle square was at five minutes walking distance form the hotel. The statue of Brown Eagle has become Mascot of Langkawi Island. This place reflects the origin of Langkawi’s name. Malay words ‘helang‘ means Eagle while ‘kawi‘ means reddish brown. Combining the two words becomes Langkawi. The Eagle statue is a massive 12 meters concrete structure depicting a Reddish Brown Eagle ready to take off. Today it is perhaps the most visited and most photographed place in Langkawi. However, the real highlight of the Eagle Square is the awesome view of bay with mountains in the background. One can see ferries moving in and out of the jetty.

Dataran Lang, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
View of the Jetty from the Eagle Square, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

Legenda Park

Just outside the Eagle square is Taman Legenda or Legenda Park. It means the park of the legends. Legenda Park is a 20 acre park based on the theme of legends popular in Langkawi folklore and myths from the past to the modern times. It is basically a park made on reclaimed land and there is a man made beach also attached to it. It was started as a park with entrance fees but with the passage of time, the entrance has become free but the monuments and sculptures inside the park show signs of decay and lack of maintenance. It is a beautiful park located at a perfect location near the Kuah Jetty and Eagle Square. I did not see many locals but saw a lot of tourists sitting in park overlooking the sea and reading book. I cannot think of any better place in Langkawi where one can go with a cup of coffee and a book and spend two three wonderful hours reading while enjoying the cool breeze coming from the sea. The park is full of local fruit trees which provide shade to the walking trails.

Each sculpture in the park represents a story from the folklore or myths popular in Langkawi such as two giants who were good friends and later turned into two mountains of Mat Cincang and Gurung Raya after they fought with each other and were turned into mountains by lightening from the sky. However, the most popular story on the island is of Mahsuri who was falsely charged with adultery and executed in 1800’s. Today it is favourite of joggers and while there are no facilities inside the park, the shopping centers just outside the park make it easy for the visitors. While we were inside the park, it started to rain and the weather became really pleasant. We took shelter in the Pavilion of the Chinese Princes. It represents the story of a Chinese Princes who was about to marry the son of Roman Emperor. But there was a fear among smaller kingdoms that they would stand no chance against two big empires coming together through marital alliance. To stop the marriage a Phoenix took the princes hostage while she was sailing to Italy for her marriage and brought her to Langkawi and killed the Prince when he came to rescue the Princes. However, when he brought the body of the Prince to the Pavilion where the Princess was kept hostage he realised that even after death the Prince is near the Princess. He realised that the union was intended by the gods and left the earth in disgrace at his mistake.

Colonial Era Bridge connecting the Eagle Square to the Legenda Park. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Pathway inside Legenda Park. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Monitor Lizard in Legenda Park. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Its raining in Langkawi. Inside Legenda Park. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
View of the bay from the Legenda Park, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Pavilion of the Chinese Princes. A place to take refuge during rain at Legenda Park, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

Temurun Waterfall

Next day was Friday and it was decided that we go to the Temurun Waterfall early and come back to the hotel before Juma Prayer Time. Temurun waterfall is in Datai Bay area of Langkawi. Since it was Friday we found difficulty in finding taxi to go to the waterfall. Finally, one elderly taxi driver agreed to take us there. It was around 30 minutes car drive from our hotel in Kuah. Temurun waterfalls are three tier falls totaling a drop of 200 meters making it the highest waterfall in Langkawi. There is a car park along the main road. From the car park it’s a 5-minute walk stepped walk in the rain forests of Mount Mat Cincang to reach the lowest fall. The place is full of butterflies and there are some wild monkeys also. We were lucky as when it started raining heavily on the way to the waterfall. Due to rains, the waterfall was in full flow with water spraying all over. There were families bathing in the waterfall. The area is surrounded by tall rain forest trees making the whole place very beautiful. The uppermost part of the waterfall is the most beautiful. The cascading waters were a sight to behold. There is a pool at its bottom where the water falls and above and accumulates before going down. That is a good place to immerse oneself in water. The water was very cool and due to the water falling from quite height, there was mist everywhere creating a wonderful experience. We spent around two and a half hours at the waterfalls and thoroughly enjoyed our stay there.

Temurun Waterfall, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
The pool formed at the bottom on topmost level at Temurun Waterfall. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Stairs leading all the way up to the top pool at Temurun Waterfall. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

Across the road to the car park is the famous pebbles beach which I could not go as only one hour was left for Friday Prayers. By the time we reached hotel it was time for Friday prayers. Leaving family at hotel, I immediately left for the Mosque. As I came out of the hotel and was trying to find my way to the mosque, a taxi driver offered me to drop to the mosque as he was also going there to pray Juma. No need to mention that he did not take any money. Masjid Hana is the biggest mosque on the island. The khutbah (sermon) was PowerPoint khutbah. This was my first experience of PowerPoint khutbah. The Imam came to the mimbar (pulpit) with a laptop. There were many big television screens in every section of the mosque. The khutbah given by the imam was actually a PowerPoint presentation. It was easy for people to see and hear in every part of the mosque. It is common experience that the engagement level of the audience in more if they can see the speaker as compared to sitting in a corner from where they can not see the speaker. From that point of view, the concept of putting on screens in every part of he mosque and outside as well looked like a good idea. It was a new experience for me. After the prayer, i just stood outside for some time to see people coming out. There were a lot tourists from different parts of the world who had come to pray. I had a 10 minute walk around the mosque to see the mosque from outside. I came back walking to the hotel.

Kilim Karst Geo Forest Park

Kilim geo forest is located on the eastern side of the Langkawi island near Kilim village. It is about 100 square kilometers of mangrove forests, Kilim river, beaches, caves and Karst mountains arising out of the seabed. The estimated life the limestone mountains is around 500 million years. They are covered with thick rainforest trees. The trees are lush green making the whole place very soothing to the eyes. There are also numerous caves. Some of the famous caves are bat caves, crocodile cave and legend cave. The best way to explore the Geo Forest is to hire a boat and go around the various landmarks. Previous day while coming from Pentai Cenang beach, I asked the taxi driver about the Kilim Park. He not only provided necessary information but also offered to arrange a guided tour. I took his number. Back in hotel I checked the various guided tours offered and their prices and realised that the deal given by the taxi driver was quite reasonable as it also included pick and drop from the hotel to the park. I called him and fixed the time for the next day. Still I was a bit apprehensive. I was feeling what marketing guys called cognitive dissonance. I part of me assured me that I have made the correct decision while another part of me cautioned that I may not get what is promised. Anyway, next day he was dot on time. The drive to the geo forest from my hotel in Kuah took around 20 minutes. The road is surrounded by tall green trees making the journey all the more enjoyable. Once at the taxi stand near Kilim Village (named after the Kilim river), we met our guide for the day. Our guide, Abdul Rahman, was a young man of around 20 years of age. He spoke reasonably good English. We said goodbye to our taxi driver who told us that he has to go somewhere but will be back before our tour ended. Abdul Rahman took us to the jetty where his boat was docked. Our journey started in the emerald green waters of the Kilim river.

Journey begins on Kilim River, Langkawi. Photo Credit © Mohsin Aziz.
Limestone Mountains covered with Trees alongside the Kilim River, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

There are numerous floating restaurants and floating fishing farms on the Kilim river. Our first stop in the river was a floating fish farm cum restaurant. The name of the restaurant was Amin Restaurant. It was also a floating fish farm. The owner, Mr. Daud was very welcoming. He was friend of Abdul Rahman. That’s common for tour guides any where. They get a percentage of sale for bringing in customers.

One can choose fish from the various containers on the boat where fish farming is done and carry on the tour. By the time, one comes back the fish is fried and ready to be enjoyed. I decided not to eat fish but we took some sandwiches, fresh coconut water and coffee.

One of the floating restaurants on the Kilim river. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Amin Floating Restaurant and Fish Farm on Kilim River. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

Mr. Daud was kind enough to show us the various stages of fish farming on his floating farm. There were various tanks submerged in river water from the boat but the fish could not go out as there were mesh around them. In these floating farms the owners don’t have to worry about water as fishes are in there natural habitat. Smaller fishes are kept in containers on the boat. When they are big enough, they are kept in these mesh nets. There was one container in water which had only four fishes. We came to know that those were pet fish of Mr. Daud. Each one had a name and they responded when Mr. Daud called out their names. They were Khadija, Aisha, Abdullah and Abdul Rahman. There were crabs and other varieties of edible sea creatures that were farmed there.

Fish Farming at Amin Restaurant and Fish Farm on Kilim River, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
I don’t know what i am holding in my palm on the Amin Floating Fish Farm, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

From the floating restaurant we were taken to the crocodile cave. There are crocodiles in the Kilim river. However, crocodile cave has been just named after crocodiles. It is not special meeting place for Kilim crocodiles. The roof of the crocodile cave is low and hence it can not be accessed by boat during high tide. Yes Kilim river has high and low tide like oceans and seas. Kilim river is connected to the Sea of Andaman and hence the tides along with the sea. Luckily when we reached the crocodile cave, it was low tide and our boat was able to go inside. It is a group of few small mountains which are hollow from below at certain points thus creating caves. We were all afraid looking for crocodiles but there was none to be seen.

 

Our Boat inside the crocodile cave. Its day time and almost dark inside. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

There are mangroves and limestone Karst mountains on both sides of the Kilim river. The mangroves are partially submerged plants which grow in saline and brackish coastal water. They are an important part of ecosystem and protect the area around them from flooding. They have to ability to store vast amount of carbon and are a key to combat climate change.

Our boat coming out of the cave and entering the mangroves. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Mangroves in Kilim Geo Park, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

A little later we entered the Gua Kelawar (the bat cave). We were given torches by our guide to see bats inside as the cave as the cave is pitch dark inside.

Map of Gua Kelawar (Bat Cave) Trail at the entrance of the cave. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Wooden bridge which meanders through the mangrove at Kilim Geo Forest. This is also the route to the Bat Cave. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

The route to the bat cave is through a wooden bridge which makes its way through the mangroves. The bridge has places to stop and take rest. The rest places are strategically located along the route and gives tourists time to not only rest but also marvel at the mangroves. We entered the bat cave with one more family. It was pitch dark inside. Even torch lights were not enough. When we put the torchlight on the roof of the cave we could see thousands of bats hanging upside down from the roof.

After our tour of bat cave was time to go out in the Andaman Sea. The Kilim river is surrounded by Karst Mountains on both the sides. However at one end there is an opening through which the river merges with the Andaman Sea. While we were going to the open sea, it started to rain. In the beginning it was only a drizzle however within ten minutes there was quite heavy rain with winds. The boat started to rock. Thankfully, our boat had a cover at top. I could see people in other boats getting totally drenched as their boats were open. We were worried as this was something new for us. Sitting in a small rocking boat with heavy rain and winds. I told Abdul Rahman to return back but he was very calm. He said that it was rainy season and the rain was not heavy. But after fifteen the rain became really heavy and we started our return journey. While returning we saw a lot of Kites and brown Eagles swooping down into the river to catch fish. By the time we came back to the jetty it was four hours and we did not even realise how time just flew away. Our taxi driver was waiting for us at the taxi stand as promised. We bid goodbye to Abdul Rahman and came back to hotel.

Hole in the wall. The point which connects Kilim River to Andaman Sea. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Kilim River meeting Andaman Sea. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Finally we are in the Andaman Sea. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

By the time returned to our hotel it was evening. We were all tired and decided to spend some time in hotel before venturing out at night for dinner. We took a taxi and told him to take us to any restaurant which served North Indian dishes (yes it was a very particular request). He took us to Pentai Cenang area which had lots of restaurants. We went to one called Mumbai and had a nice North India Paneer dish along with Chicken Biryani. Another day we came to the same area and went to Taj Mahal restaurant which serves very good Mughlai and Arabic dishes. In fact, the restaurant had two separate dining areas with Indian and Arabic decorations. They served really good Shawarma and Chicken Kadahi.

Sky Cab

The Sky Cab in Langkawi is a feat of engineering. This is one of the must do activity in Langkawi. The ticket cost also included a 5 minute Sky Dome 3 D show which to me looked like a waste of time. The ride itself was amazing with very nice view of the island while going up. The entrance is through oriental village which has lots of activities and restaurant also. The tickets start from 35 RM which seemed very reasonable. There are express lane tickets also which put you ahead of the line but they come at a cost. The view from the top is amazing. Surprisingly the upward journey was more scary as compared to coming down which is very smooth. One up at the station, it mist all around with very cool Sea breeze coming from Andaman Sea. Langkawi sky bridge is accessible from the top station. In face one has to go down the Mountain from the top station to reach Langkawi sky bridge. The steps are very slippery and become even more during rainy season. Langkawi sky bridge connects two mountains and is perhaps the most photographed Langkawi landmark. Camera is allowed and there is no fees for bringing camera. One on the sky-bridge, the mobile starts picking signals from Thailand and we started getting messages welcoming us to Thailand and what numbers to add for calling home (i.e. Malaysia). The same happened during boat ride from Kilim to Andaman Sea. Thailand is across Langkawi.

Ground Station of Sky Cab. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Sky Cab station at the top. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
On the way to the top. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Famous Langkawi Sky Bridge. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Seven Sisters Waterfall as seen from the Sky Cab. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

On our down journey we could see beautiful waterfalls. The most famous being the seven sisters. I could not visit it, but saw it from the sky cab. It is called so because it forms seven ponds at different levels while dropping from almost 90 meters. Maybe I can visit it some other time in future if luck takes me again to Langkawi. There is no doubt that of all the places that I have visited so far, Langkawi is one where me and my family would like to go again. Whenever, we think of Langkawi, we think of a peaceful laid back island with lush green rain forest trees, drizzle and cool breeze. It indeed is a beautiful place.

Note: This journey took place in September and October 2015. Written during lock-down of 2020 from notes.