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

Author: Mohsin Aziz

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

Author: Mohsin Aziz

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

Author: Mohsin Aziz

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:

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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

Author: Mohsin Aziz

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.

Educating the community: Some inspiring news and some random thoughts

A group of Ulema from the Indian State of Jharkhand have appealed to Muslims to solemnize marriages with simplicity. They have decided not to officiate marriages with baraat (often the big group of people who accompany bridegroom to the bride’s house for marriage) or unnecessary extravaganza. It is indeed a welcome decision.

Anyway, many were already forced to drastically cut down on marriage related celebrations due to lockdown. Billions of rupees are spent every year on marriages. Not all expenses are unnecessary, but a huge part of the expenses fall in the category of unnecessary.

A similar report about Meerut city in the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh estimates that around 60000 nikah have taken place in Uttar Pradesh alone during lockdown. The report also mentioned about how marriages were done with less than 10 to 15 people from both the sides. The news report also mentions as to how the simplicity in marriage ceremonies is helping families save significant amount of money. In fact, some people have mentioned that if not for the forced simplicity due to lockdown they would have taken loan to perform marriage with all the required extravaganza due to social pressure. I was just making some rough calculations. Imagine each person saving rupees one lakh due to reduced expenses. This is a very conservative estimate. 60000 marriages saving one lakh each amount to massive 600 crore. This is the saving only during the lockdown period and only from one state. Even if we take this as amount saved in a whole year still it is a huge amount. Let us assume that 75% of this saved amount is used by the family and 25% is used on education of the community. That would still be 150 crores. Assuming that it requires around 2 crore rupees to start a new school, this amount of money is enough to open 75 schools every year. It would not take more than 10 years to transform the education map of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh.   It is high time that the community starts thinking along these lines.

It reminded me of a silent movement already going on in the Muslim community on the need to save money on marriage and cut down on multiple umrah and instead use the money on educating the children of the community. A Faizur Rahman of Harmony India and Prof. Aslam Parvaiz, Vice Chancellor of Maulana Azad Urdu University, Hyderabad, India have calculated the amount of money spent by Rich Indian Muslims every year on Umrah. Their rough estimate shows that the money spent on Umrah just for one year can fund the education of 3 lakh kids for 18 years. They are not asking people not to go on Umrah, they are simply asking them not to go every year as many rich Muslims are doing and rather spend the money on the betterment of the community.

I would finish by taking excerpts from an article by Maulana Hafizur Rahman Azami Omeri where he has quoted Imam Ghazali on such practices. “These rich people are very fond of spending their money on the Hajj. They perform the Hajj again and again sometimes even at the cost of their neighbours suffering in hunger”.

For reference and further reading, see:

Aas Mohammad Kaif Twocircles.net (30 May 2020) लॉकडाऊन में इस्लामि कैसे बन गए निकाह के तौर-तरीक़े ! Twocircles.net. Available at: http://twocircles.net/2020may30/437185.html. Accessed on 4 June 2020.

News 18 Urdu (3 June 2020) جھارکھنڈ کے علمائےکرام کا بڑا فیصلہ، شادی میں دھوم دھام اور فضول خرچی

ہوئی تو نکاح نہیں پڑھائیں گے جھارکھنڈ کے علمائےکرام کا اعلان

Available at: https://urdu.news18.com/news/nation/big-decisions-of-religious-leaders-of-jharkhand-for-the-efforts-of-social-reform-nau-ns-305484.html. Accessed on 6 June 2020.

Maulana Hafizur Rahman Azami Omeri (25 May 2012) Multiple Hajj and Umrahs are not a priority in Islam. Twocirlces.net. Available at: http://twocircles.net/2012may25/multiple_hajj_and_umrahs_are_not_priority_islam.html. Accessed on 20 May 2020.

Rasheed Kidwai (24 March 2019) ‘Rich Muslims’ expense on Umrah, marriage can teach 3 lakh poor Muslim kids for 18 yrs’. The Print. Available at: https://theprint.in/opinion/rich-muslims-expense-on-umrah-marriage-can-teach-3-lakh-poor-muslim-kids-for-18-yrs/210834/. Accessed on 27 December 2019.

Black lives matter, Every Life matters

On 25th May 2020, Minneapolis Police arrested a 46-year-old Black American named George Floyd for buying cigarettes with counterfeit 20 dollars. There were four policemen involved. One police officer named Derek Chauvin pinned George Floyd to the ground and kept his knee on Floyds neck for full 8 minutes and 46 seconds even when Floyd was lying unconscious. In the videos George Floyd is repeatedly heard saying that he can’t breathe. His last words which can be heard in videos are I can’t breathe, Man. Please. Mama. Mama. I can’t breathe. Still the policeman did not remove his knee from Floyd’s neck. Derek Chauvin has been charged with murder and manslaughter. All four policemen involved have been fired by the Minneapolis police department. The medical report has classified Floyd’s death as homicide. It was through the CCTV cameras and videos made by bystanders that the world came to know about this heinous crime. The videos sparked a wave of protests across United States, some of them even turning violent with arson and looting.

Today America is burning. America is wounded and in pain. America is in turmoil and mourning. The person at the helm of affairs is further dividing the great country instead of providing the healing touch. He has been calling governors to do more and to dominate the protestors and telling some of the Governor that if they fail to dominate the protestors they will “look like a bunch of jerks”. So much so that the Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo while talking to Christian Amanpour offered some strong advice. He said ‘ Let me just say this to the President of the United States on the behalf of the police chiefs in this country: Please, if you don’t have something constructive to say, Keep your mouth shut, because you’re putting men and women in their early twenties at risk”.

Personally, I connect to this incident at a quite deeper level. One of the abiding and life shaping memories of my childhood is perhaps the only time I was beaten by my father. This is about 1978 or 79 when I was in either Kindergarten 1 or Kindergarten 2. There was a group of foreign students who lived in rented apartments near our house in Aligarh. Today Aligarh is a city of almost million residents. Back then it was a small University Town known for the world-renowned Aligarh Muslim University. Besides, students from all over India, it drew students from around the globe. There were a lot of foreign students in the University. However, the sizable majority of foreign students comprised mostly from various African countries, Thailand, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Palestine. I was playing with other kids from the neighborhood outside the house when one of the African students passed by on his bicycle. Some kids in my groups started calling him black man. I also joined in without even knowing what it meant. Thankfully, my father was sitting in the drawing room with outside door open and listened to us shouting those ugly words. By the time he came out to stop us, that student was gone. My father came straight to me and next thing I remember is a slap. Not only me, all the kids got a slap each. Next, we were all assembled by my father in the drawing room of our house. We were told and explained that all human beings are equal and that the colour of the skin and religion or facial features are not an excuse to discriminate, exclude or humiliate anybody. Because my father did not know where that fellow lived, he waited for next day and when that student passed by again, he was requested to stop. My father took me to him, and I was asked to say sorry for my previous day behaviour. My father also apologized on our behalf to that student. He was a nice fellow. He not only accepted our apology but put his hand on my head and said its ok. After that he became friends with all the kids, and we used to say hello aloud whenever he passed by. That was an extremely valuable lesson for me. Since then I have never discriminated against anybody because of colour of skin. We have to teach our kids from very early age otherwise they may learn and imbibe to hate somebody or discriminate against somebody from their environment. Today in the list of my heroes are a lot of black icons ranging from Dr. Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela to Mohammad Ali to Rosa Parks to Maya Angelou. They keep on inspiring people and are role models for people from around the world.

Let’s pray and work for a day when nobody has to beg for life, when nobody has to beg to breath, when nobody has to beg to be heard, when nobody has to beg to be treated equally, when nobody has to beg for dignity just because of his or her colour of skin or gender or religion. Am I hoping for too much? I hope not.

For references and more details, see:

Most dangerous ways to school

Author: Mohsin Aziz

While browsing internet one day my wife stumbled upon a documentary series called “Most dangerous ways to school”. It was out of curiosity that we decided to give it a try. We all started a bit apprehensive as documentaries are usually too much detailed and often boring unless one is interested in the topic. Surprisingly, it turned out to be one of the most meaningful and beautiful documentaries that we have seen recently. By the end of the documentary we realized that there is a whole series covering different isolated communities from around the world. So far, we have seen quite a few and to say that the series is amazing and has been a huge learning experience would be an understatement. It exposes one to the different cultures and traditions and the diversity of living conditions from around the world. The series really makes one realize how blessed one is. To see that simple things in life that most of us take for granted are luxuries and beyond the reach of so many around us was a truly humbling experience. While during lockdown many of us are always complaining about the favourite ice cream flavour not being available, the series brings us the stark reality of so many of us around the world who survive on so little and are still happy. Despite their crushing poverty, they have the desire to succeed and are able to celebrate life whenever they can with whatever little they have.  The series gives us a peek into the lives of the people living in remote parts of the world. The series also brings with all force the sacrifices that so many families are making so that their children can study and live a better life than themselves. It also brings to fore the perseverance of the kids, often less than 10 years of age, in the face of adversity. The whole series is a great education for kids to know and learn about different countries and cultures. They are not only fun to watch for kids; they are virtual geography class without the often-boring lectures.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

For the kids braving the difficult terrain to reach school, they learn to work as team and help each other on the way. I believe they learn more on the way to school then inside the school. When they grow up most of them would be much better team workers and leaders than their school peers who come from privileged backgrounds. The series highlights what difficulties and adversities families and children are ready to face to get education in the hope of a better future. For most of us, getting to school is boring routine affair. For many it can be life threatening journey. Quintus Media’s series entitles ‘The most dangerous ways to school’ highlights just that.  The series is produced by Maximum Films. It shows the struggle of kids to reach school living in remote communities from around the world. One the one hand is spectacular natural beauty while on the other hand is the life-threatening danger that the environment poses to the kids on their way to school. Still its gratifying to see young children battling all odds to reach school. The way to school lies precariously balanced between the surviving the elements and their hunger and thirst for knowledge. From kids in Nepal and Columbia using zip lines to cross rivers and gorges to kids in Peru navigating snake infested jungles to small kids in Nicaragua crossing river on their own to kids in Siberia going to school on horseback early morning in -50 degree Celsius to kids in Papua New Guinea walking in jungle for 7 days or Ladakh for 4 days in -40 degrees so that they can get admission in school is fabulous. Most of the families are so poor that they cannot even afford shoes for their children. What is striking about these amazing kids is that before walking 2 to 3 hours to reach school every day they also help their parents in fields. It is worth watching. Go watch with your kids. They will learn so much more about life.