One's personality is both a composition and reflection, but if I have to choose one of them, I will choose reflection as the "self" is more important to me than "me". One's composition may change, walking across the cultural landscapes and climbing the social ladder but one's self is tied to one's reflections. The fun part is that reflections are not bound to "Time-Space" barriers ( it is not time-space) and respective mental constructs, which have grown so thick over ages, that they had reduced the image of humans to Sisyphus, rolling different sizes of boulders on hills of different heights.… As the name of this Blog indicates, knols are my perspectives on topics of interests, sweet/bitter experiences or just doodling :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Fattening Of A Mind

When I was at high school, my obsession with learning went too far to an extent that I got almost disconnected with most of my friends and their world of interests. It peaked when I started working at a woodwork factory after the school hours. At the factory, I mostly varnished the chairs and sofa sets. My work clothes and shoes had turned into armored shields by multiple layers of varnish coatings and I felt like an arthropod inside the clothes. In short, I went through a daily metamorphosis, beginning in the morning when I dressed into the dark-sky-blue school uniform (which turned into light-sky-blue after weekly washes by the end of the school year) to the afternoon, when I wore varnished-work-clothes and to the night, when I became myself in the casual dress. While the life appeared to be the repetition of the same acts weeks after weeks with no end at the sight, I felt like to be in the Alice’s wonderland. And that wonderland was the world of the words;

Early afternoons, when I went to work, the other workers had already left for the afternoon siesta. Occasionally, the factory owner’s youngest brother visited the factory to supervise our work. Once we went to the same school and were in different grades. He was couple of years younger than me but at the factory, I went to work and he was the boss. While, I varnished the chairs, he held a fat Oxford dictionary and walked back and forth of the hall to memorize the dictionary. I wanted to learn the language too but I had neither the time, nor money for the dictionary. So, I sorted out the used English newspapers from Russian newspapers that we used for packaging (also laid on the floor while varnishing) and hid them. I put a paper on the floor while working and looked for the words that either I could easily memorize or looked interesting to me and asked the meanings from the young boss. He liked the practice and often shared the vocabularies, he thought were interesting. My vocabulary was growing fast and parts of the English papers started making sense to me (Those were my greatest joys). I knew that kind of encyclopedic and chance-based learning equipped me with a kind of worldview, full of holes that enabled me only to have patchy views of the worlds that fell outside of my town. Still, each new word, each new piece of information, each new concept made me feel that I was growing up in those still days and nights. I believed that if I had plenty of time and a dictionary, I could have attained nirvana. 

I had a year of gap after finishing high school and that was a heavenly gift to me. I had plenty of time (I worked till noon and afternoons, I went for a mechanic course, which was for three hours and as I had no homework, so I could afford to spend time reading whatever, I could get my hands on) and well for the first time an English to Urdu dictionary (and that was the first non-textbook that I bought for fifty rupees). I went crazy with translating entire pages of newspapers (well, not the way interpreters translate but by writing Urdu meanings under each English word). I didn’t attain nirvana but it had greatly boosted my confidence level. 

When colleges’ admission opened, I and my youngest maternal-uncle went to the college for admission. The students wings of the political parties had set up reception desks to guide (attract students) and help students in their college admissions. Holding the admission forms, we went to the desk of Hazara Students Federation. Three senior students of the college represented the party. 

“What do you want to study?” A young man who had thick curly hairs and square face asked.

“Science.” I replied.

“Pre-medical or pre-engineering?”

“Pre-medical (which meant biology instead of mathematics)”.

“Could you guys afford coaching classes?”


“Then, I strongly recommend that you take arts subjects, instead. Without coaching classes, you won’t be able to pass the exams.”

We thanked them and left. We knew, they were right but we were determined and took admission in pre-medical. College textbooks were in English but I had dictionary and time, so I translated my Biology, Chemistry and partially physics textbooks….

So, why did I feel to the need to tell this story?

Recently, I heard two complains about myself (from friends and relatives), first, that I am living in Jungle (small town) and second that I rarely communicate. Well, if they knew a little about my past, they could understand that my mind have grown so obese that it barely wonders about large cities or becoming more social. Imagine that a boy who once believed that he could attain nirvana, if he had plenty of time and a dictionary gets the chance to order five books at 2 a.m. in the morning (and they only cost him two hours of his work) or he could stop at a thrift shop after work and buy five book just with an hour of his work, what would you expect him spending most of his time? He would literally bury himself in the books, right? He knows very well that, it is not a systematic way of gaining knowledge (or it is unhealthy on the long run but he never been able to live a healthy lifestyle) and he can’t help himself. If you are impoverished for years, your health is the first victim, when you have plenty. You can’t resist the urge of over-consumption, despite knowing the dangers. The access to fast internet and books has fattened my mind.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Conversations With An Afghan Teacher: Part 14

I liked this interpretation of the history” I said.
“See once, Romans conquered all the olive producing Mediterranean basin and the wheat producing Egypt, the olive trade declined and so the philosophy and democracy with the trade….”

A tractor trolley loaded with foundation-stones roared, as it passed us. It was playing “adda-kona songs” (old bus station; there were music stores that sold audio-cassettes and played loud songs in the noisy traffic) to the loudest, as if the tractor's engine and its speakers were competing for the loudness. In the contest of the noises, I couldn’t hear what the teacher was saying. I kept nodding and smiling, pretending that I am hearing him well. He paused.

“Have you heard of the Darwin finches?” I asked the teacher, once the tractor’s noises faded in the distance.
“I know a bit about them.”
“Don’t you think the diversification, and co-variations of the economic systems and socio-political systems have very much in common to the developments of beak polymorphism in the Darwin finches?”

The teacher didn’t reply. He fixed his glasses and stared down the valley.

“As you know, thirteen (fifteen) finch species were recorded on Galapagos islands…”
“...And they are the well studied. Grants1 studied them for thirty years. They could observe and record the changes in finches as drought changed their food supplies…” I clarified further my question.

“Hmm” was all the teacher said.

I took that response as a sign of silent disagreement.

“Food supply played a key role in human evolution from other apes. One hypothesis is that ancestors of humans started using their hands for collecting food instead of walking like other apes. The freeing of hands made it possible to make tools and increasingly greater supply of food and also migrations to new lands…”

Apparently, my arguments weren’t convincing enough, as they failed to catch the interest the teacher. I felt that down in the valley, there was something more interesting than my arguments. I looked down to find out, what he stared at. Few lights were turned on. I expected the maghrib adhan very soon.

“The seven wonders of the ancient world were either the kings’ burial sites, castles and places of worship. Public buildings such as parliament, churches, mosques and temples were the most prominent buildings till very recent time. But we are witnessing that towers and skyscrapers, with their futuristic designs are becoming more prominent. These towers are the centers of financial activities and is not limited to particular region but are global phenomenon. Food collection and production shaped the ancient humans societies and economies are shaping our world…”

I paused to see, if the teacher had some comments. He was still staring down the valley.

“Are you thinking about something?” I asked.
“Yes.” the teacher replied. “As you mentioned the finches, I remembered an old question that I am still struggling with…”
“What’s the question?” I asked hurriedly.
“Have you heard about the brain’s reward systems?”
“Sort of.”
“Do you still remember our first conversation that I asked you, whether Eids and Wedding celebrations and likes make you happy or not?”
“Balay Ustad!”
“I have long struggled with this questions about behaviors that we enjoy and indulge ourselves into, often obsessively. Take the examples of the craze in football (soccer), cricket, boxing, wrestling, action, thrill and love-story movies, animal racing and fighting, gambling, politics and show-offs just to name few…”
“Balay Ustad.”
“Each of those obsessions have something to do with brain’s reward system…”
“Could have!”
“No, I mean it!
“Our brain have connected pathways of neurotransmitters that reward us in the form of feeling good for behaviors that increase our survival and reproduction. But Humans have also learned to trick the brain in producing the pleasure chemicals….”
“I am not surprised!” I laughed.
“My point is, since cultures vary in their appreciations for different behaviors, and these variations existed for over hundreds and sometimes thousands of years, they have caused variations in the brain’s reward system. To make things simple, organisms exposed in different settings for long period of times evolve variations, like the evolution of the beak varieties in the Darwin’s finches …..”



Although, I was introduced to the theory of evolution in 1995-96 through biology class,  but I learnt about Grants’ works (who spent six months of each year on the hot and waterless island of Daphne Major for thirty (more than forty years) consecutive years to study finches) around the year 2000, in the third year of the college.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Conversations With Afghan Teacher; Part 13

“.... You may have heard that most of the earliest human civilizations developed on the fertile soils around the rivers in warm climates where growing crops were easier?...”
“A rudimentary information about the earliest river-civilizations like those of Indus, Euphrates, Nile, and Huang-He  are part of “GENERAL KNOWLEDGE” (As per tradition, serious students read the general knowledge books that were available in the bookstores, and also consumed newspapers regularly in order to be able to compete in the civil-services-examinations, and “general knowledge” was a mandatory part of the examinations.)” I stressed on the word general knowledge to show that I wasn’t that ignorant. “And I also know that rice cultivating civilizations had denser populations than civilizations thrived on wheat and corn 1.” I boastingly added.
“I’m not testing your knowledge.” He smiled. “I just wanted to make sure that you are included in the conversation, so you don’t get bored…”
“No, no…. I’m enjoying the conversation… please carry on...” I was embarrassed. “Actually, I’m not a good conversationalist.” I tried to hide my embarrassment.
“What was your best conversation that you remember?” Asked the teacher unexpectedly.
“Although, I had enjoyed the knowledgeable conversations, but I had enjoyed more the tales of old men about places that I hadn’t visited or the time that I had spent with my friends conversing hours randomly and talking nonsensically…”
“The knowledgeable conversation is very small part of the conversations that interest men. We are creatures with unbounded imaginations that are at work all the times…”

The teacher paused, and we looked down, at the city. The opposite mountains were half bluish-grey and half yellowish-grey. Despite all of its problems, it was a beautiful valley, particularly during early mornings and evenings. Something that was to be felt than to be described.

“You was talking about the river-civilizations?” I broke the silence.
“Oh, Yes..” he fixed his glasses. “I was saying that Sumer was one of the most innovative earliest river-civilizations. They introduced writing, laws, canal irrigation system, wheel and the famous flood story of Noah also originated there.”
“Balay Ustad.”
“The intensive use of land soured the soil and resultantly, the crop production decreased drastically. Despite all those innovations, the Sumerian civilization couldn’t survive the decrease in the crop productions….”
“That makes sense.” I interjected. “We witnessed the collapse of Soviet Union as a result of poor economy, despite being one of the world leaders in the technological advances.”
“While that’s right but it isn’t a one way road. I will come to that as well. Right now, let’s talk about how means of production and control of the production system shape social structures to a large extent.”
“Balay Ustad.”
“You can see there are more orchards than crop fields in this valley and we both know the reasons. Orchards require less water and labor to maintain, and  can grow on poor soils in comparisons to the crops…”
“Balay Ustad.”
“In comparison, to river-civilizations that were based on irrigation and good soils, there were orchard-civilizations in places that faced water shortage and poor soil conditions like those of Mediterranean basin. Olive was the chief of fruit of those orchards. Olives were fine with poor soils, less water and required less labor to maintain and yet it provided a fruit that didn’t spoil till a year, provided oil that had many uses from cooking to lighting. And more important was the fact that once an olive orchard was established, it lived for almost a millennium producing fruits each year…”
“Very impressive.”
“On downside, although olive trees are evergreen and regenerate upon damages, it takes from five to twelve years and some even twenty years to produce olives. So, a damage to an olive orchard required about a decade to produce olives again…”
“That’s very long time..”
“As olive growing civilizations didn’t have crops to maintain their populations, they traded their olives with those of the crop producing civilizations. You may have heard the story of Prophet Joseph and his brothers?...”
“Right, right.” I replied. “Joseph was from Canaan that became a minister in the Pharaoh's’ court. And the Canaanites depended on imported wheat from Egypt..”
“Right. As olive producing civilizations had plenty of free times and needed peace for their trade and olive orchards, they introduced in depth concepts of ethics, justice and brotherhood through democratic institutions and Philosophical schools in the Greek islands, and Abrahamic institutions and schools in the Mediterranean basin. What we know of today's world are mostly based on ideas borrowed from those orchard institutions…




  1. (Although rice has lower calories *130 to 216 per 100 grams depending on rice type* than wheat *339 calories per 100 grams*, but rice had greater yield than wheat per hectare * for instance before 1960, a hectare of rice could sustain 5.63 people and a hectare of wheat could sustain 3.67 people*. Rice producing regions like, South Asia and most of East Asian countries had dense populations and are still the most dense population centers. In comparison to the rice and wheat, corn has 86 calories per 100 grams and till around 1930 had similar yield per hectare as that of rice, however, since then, the corn yields have surpassed that of rice. Despite high yields, proto-civilization based on corn production like those of Mississipi river remained very small and short lived compared to other river-civilizations. Time and isolation *other river civilizations benefited from trades, sharing of ideas and technologies from each others* are few explanations offered.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Conversations With An Afghan Teacher: Part 12

That was obvious; “When even kids use dialogues and mediation to resolve their issues, then, societies, no matter, how primitive are definitely, better off than children…” I thought.   

“Like history of earth, you can understand the present situation of a people, if you know their past well…” the teacher added, before I could utter a response.
“Balay Ustad.”
“Have you heard about the famous experiment of the Japanese Scientist on Slime Mould?....” The teacher asked, “What was his name?” He closed his eyes and pressed his index finger against his temple. “The name is somewhere close... and….what was his name?...his name? Yes, yes, I remembered.” He smiled as he opened back his eyes. “Toshiyuki Nakagaki!”
“Toshiyuki Nakagaki” I laughed and repeated the name after the teacher. “Still, you remembers his name. That’s like mission impossible for me.”
“I’m a teacher and have to remember names!” He laughed again.
“No, I haven’t heard about that experiment.” I confessed. After few meetings, it had become easy for me to swallow my pride at times.
“Slime Moulds are basically unicellular organisms that usually live as single celled individuals and feed on other single celled organisms like bacteria. When some individuals sense the shortage of the food, they excrete a chemical signal and all the individuals combines and make a multi-cellular organism….” He put another slice of orange in his mouth. “And you can imagine that a multi-cellular organism has better chances in finding food and coping with food shortages..”
“That’s neat.” Said I.
The teacher laughed. “You know…” he shook his head. “Once, there was a time, when I thought there were huge differences between the intelligence of the different human groups…” he paused and looked at me to see my response. I was waiting for him to continue. “I’m not so sure anymore…” he smiled again.
“So why are there so much differences in prosperity levels of different groups out there?”       asked I.
“It all about the systems…”
“Isn’t the systems are made and maintained by the people?” Puzzled, I interjected.
“That’s true.” He replied with a somber nod. “But the slime moulds don’t have the kinds of intelligence we attribute to our brains.”

I didn’t get, what he meant by that, so I stayed silent.

“Nakagaki cut a slime mould into pieces and put on a different corners of a plastic maze in a petri-dish. The slime moulds grew throughout the maze and became a single mould again….”
“So they behaved  like the times, when there were food shortages?”
“Exactly.” He put another slice of orange in his mouth and gestured me to eat my orange too. “And yeah, don’t forget these oranges are packed with Vitamin C, something your body doesn’t store...”

I picked the second orange to peel. “Especially, when air pollution is on rise, we need regular replenishment of the Vitamin C.” I laughed.
“Nakagaki put two pieces of agar filled with nutrients on the two corners of the maze, and in a few hours, the mould body shrank itself to the shortest path of the maze between the two agar pieces…”
“So, in a way, it solved a puzzle, right?”
“Right.” Said the teacher while wiggling his legs up and down. “But it wasn’t a conscious act of solving puzzles as some of us do enjoy…”

I felt like he wasn’t feeling easy to jump into conclusions, so I tried to distract him by changing the topic. “Once, I was so into solving the word puzzles that, as soon as I received the newspapers, soon after reading the current Tarzan series, I would jump to the word puzzle section to solve it.”
“See, I can’t decide, whether the slime moulds that don’t have any brain are more intelligent than people who created social systems that at one end of them, people need advisers to manage their wealth, and at the other end, people scavenge for food in the garbage piles…” the teacher paused. His legs still wiggled up and down. “What do you think?” He asked me.
“In this case, I guess, there must be some strong connection between intelligence and inequality…” replied I. “It is just a guess.” I stressed.
“That’s very likely.” The teacher smiled. “And yes, you need your vitamins to maintain that intelligence.”
“Balay Ustad.” I ate a slice of the orange. “You said that humans learned very early that walls weren’t the best solutions to protect their heavy investments?” Asked I.
“Balay” Said Ustad. “You know, soil erosion and soil degradation isn’t a new problem. Early human settlements faced these problems after intensive agricultural activities and pasturing. (While teacher mentioned the soil erosion, I remembered that we were living in a part of the world, where desertification was the biggest challenge and I repeatedly heard about the warnings of upcoming environmental migration. Other than grey mountains, the lands appeared khaki. Close to the mountain fans, where underground water reservoirs were once tapped by force of gravity through karez systems, were replaced by forcefully withdrawing the water through tube-wells. Down in plain areas of the valley, the soils were already showing the signs of salinization. Some of the urban farmers used sewage water to irrigate their salad and vegetable farms. You could never told the vegetables or the salad that you are buying are either supplied by sewage- vegetable-farms, tube-well-vegetable-farms or supplied from other provinces such as Sindh and Punjab. Any casual visit to the two civil hospitals in the city, one  could see that patients with gastritis complaints were the routine visitors to the hospitals. The political and social impacts of the water scarcity were already becoming obvious. Those with political or social influences had more rights to the underground water than the ordinary citizen. So, it was kind of normal where populations of poor neighborhoods that numbered in hundreds of thousands people received none to few hours a week of water supply from the city sources and had to meet their water need by buying water tankers who supplied water at high prices, the influential individuals sold the water to water tankers or used the water to maintain their huge lawns, farms and orchards. It was common to hear the phrases such as land mafia and water-tanker mafia. Any way, from where we sat, I realized the scarcity of limited resources and worse than that an unstable and very poorly organized and maintained social structures living off those limited resources. It was true that there weren’t much room for manipulations when the resources were very limited. It was a real time bomb scenario.) ….


Friday, March 18, 2016

Conversations With An Afghan Teacher; Part 11

As I sat on roof of the underground-water-reservoir for the late afternoon tea, the main-gate of our house was knocked. (The roof of water reservoir was the coolest place in the house where we gathered to escape the heat of summer, drank green tea and talked till late in the night.) My younger brother answered the door.

“A spectacled man is asking for you.” He informed me.

In those days, the door knocked frequently. The boys were growing and so was the town.  Whenever, there was a vague description of the visitor, like a “spectacled man” instead of a name, it was understood the person is a new acquaintance. Just woken up from the siesta, I was sluggishly stood and went out to see the person.

“Salam Ustad.” I smiled to cover my laziness, tried to tidy my hair with my fingers and nervously shook my kameez  to make my appearance presentable, as I saw the “Afghan” teacher.  “Come in and join us for tea.”
“Salam” the teacher extended his arms and shook my hand. “Thank you for invitation. I hope I haven’t interrupted...”
“No, no.” I interrupted. “I am totally free.”
“I was on my way for a walk to bypass and thought to ask you, if would you like to join me?”
“Balay, balay Ustad. Let me wear my shoes.” (I wore slipper)
“Take your time.”


“I am going for a walk with a friend and might come late.” I informed my mother and ran to the room to change.  (As I usually didn’t go out to spend time with friends, as it was the trend, and if I did, it was usually for a purpose, I got the permission without any further questioning).
“OK, make sure to return early.” All that my mother said.

And five minutes later, we were on our way towards bypass. We stopped by a fruit cart. Carts of vegetables and fruits were parked on both sides of the road. Elderly ladies inspected and bargained for the vegetables and fruits. Boys and girls hurried towards the coaching centers. The gap between the two generations were staged in the form of shopping for the dinner and going to the coaching centers, every late afternoon.

“Do you like oranges?” The teacher asked me.
“Since class third.”
“Since class third?”
“Yes, That’s when I first learned about scurvy disease and got obsessed to eat as many oranges as I could get.”
“I see.” The teacher smiled.
“I didn’t want to lose my teeth and hair….”
“That makes sense.” Said the teacher as he put the oranges into the pan of the weighing scale.
“And when I learned that smoking destroy the Vitamins, particularly Vitamin C in the body, I never touched cigarettes.” I boasted.
“Never smoked a cigarette?” He looked me into the eyes. “Not even out of curiosity?”
“Well.” I put an orange into weighing pan. “Just half a cigarette. It made me cough and worse, I couldn’t go home for hours fearing someone would smell cigarette. I didn’t want to get into trouble…”
“Which one was the stronger deterrence,  the fear of Vitamin C destruction or smell of cigarette?”
“Honestly, the smell of cigarette.?”

“It is my invitation and I am going to pay for the oranges.” The teacher stopped me when I tried to pay for the oranges. “You will pay for your invitations.” He continued.

Imagine a young man, whose total world experience was limited to a medium size city (I never liked large cities for living. Troubles in commuting and crowded apartments made feel uneasy. Till very recent, I thought, my preferences were weird in those respect, then, I met this young man and asked, if he had been to the New York city. “Binghamton is the largest city that I have been so far and the houses are too close that I don’t like.”, was his answer.), and he had witnessed a  town in  that city to grow from patches of orchards, randomly scattered houses and wilderness into a full size town. What he would talk mostly if he had met a new acquaintance?

We climbed a mound that was the highest point on the Western bypass. Down there, the city lied and smoked gasoline and diesel and puffed the smoke on the face of the surrounding mountains.  Close to us, few women sat around graves here  and recited fatiha, while their children played. Hazara Town graveyard had grown rapidly. For years, there were concerns that graveyard may fill up soon. All the efforts to acquire more land for the graveyard had failed so far. Every time, I saw the graveyard, the concerns for land shortage refreshed. There wasn’t much that I could do about it. Adjacent to the graveyard, there was a rough ground where boys played cricket (Years later, in 2011 terrorists attacked the boys and men who played cricket and soccer there). Next to the ground were walled orchards and vineyard. We sat on the mound facing the city. The shade of the Chiltan mountains advanced slowly as the sunlight retreated accordingly. The cool breeze of high and open area and the view of the city was surreal. The mound that we sat on was a recent Piedmont alluvial fan. For a while we sat silent and just gazed the city. Occasionally a fast truck disturbed the silence. I broke the silence and started talking about the history of plate tectonics that build the valley. All the way, I had talked about the growth of the town, the events that I thought were important and the fun that we had in those sans souci days of plays and fun, and now, I was imparting my newly gained knowledge of  introductory geology of the area. The teacher listened with occasional encouragements of single word, good.

“How old are those orchards?” The teacher asked me as he peeled an orange.
“I assume one and half a century based on the establishment of Quetta City by Britishers.” I replied after thinking awhile. “However, it is claimed that these orchards, the karez that irrigate them and the adjacent graveyard are five to six centuries old but as I don’t know of any research, the estimates and claims remain just so…” I added.
“As none of those trees including the mulberry and grape vines live more than a century, you might probably right.” He said. “Irrespective of the age of the orchards, I asked that question for a reason…” He added. Then, he paused and stared at the horizon, as if thinking about something.

I didn’t reply and waited for him to continue.

“Most of the times, we are so consumed by thinking out of the box that we forget what are in the box..”
“For example?” I interrupted.
“Like the orchards and the karez in front of us…” he put a slice of orange in his mouth. “It takes five to eight years for an apple tree to bear fruits. Just think the amount of the time and investments that go into an orchard to make it profitable. Now, compare the five to eight years to the five to twelve years that an olive tree take to mature and bear fruit….”
“We live on day to day basis, and I bet most of the families don’t have more than a week of supplies. Investing years without returns are really heavy investment…”
“Now think, if an orchard was attacked,  it would needed another five to eight years of peace for apple orchards and five to twelves years for olives to bear fruits. Although olives are evergreen and regenerate, they still need those lengthy years to mature…”
“Balay Ustad.”
“And the mud walls aren’t good protection for the orchards…” (Although the orchards were surrounded by mud walls, the mud walls weren’t maintained well and parts of it had collapsed.)

“No…” I laughed. “Kids and addicted guys trespass all the times.”

“Since ancient times, to protect their heavy investments, such as orchards and karez, the societies had developed social systems that avoided war and resolved the conflicts through dialogue and mediation…” he put another orange slice in his mouth.