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, December 25, 2013

Sorry For Disgracing You, But I Am Hungry

It was first time that I was visiting the American Museum of Natural History, and me with my this chronic bad-habit of trying to-be-closer to guide (I always confuse curiosity with distance: I believe that, the closer you are to the object, the curious you are, but that is just the wish to be curious, not the curiosity. Curiosity is an insatiable greed for knowing) to consume the information both through my eyes and ears. The guides are shrewd. They know awes are momentary and shocks are everlasting- experiences, and they have mastered in shocking the visitors. As my brain was struggling to handle the flow of traffic of information coming from both the ears and the eyes (I don’t know, if brain also gets information through the mouth, when there is nothing in the mouth to taste, but the mouth is open, as if, it is competing with eyes and ears for information), the guide asked the group, “what makes dinosaurs, dinosaurs?” As I am the narrator of this story, so I give myself the right to stop the flow of the story  for a short-break to tell you, what was going on in my head, while I was struggling for the answer. I knew the straight answer that paleontologists like to call parsimonious answer, but I couldn't utter a word, and instead starting asking myself (It is just my arrogance and self-love that I have to have my opinion for everything: poor me), what if someone asks me, “what makes a man, man?” My mind was flooded by countless images that men express their manhood with. Some think mustache is the most expressive symbol of manhood, so they keep thick mustaches, even borrow parts of beard on the cheek to make it appear thicker, and shave the rest of beard to make their mustaches more prominent. Some think, beard is the sign of manhood. They shave their mustache to make sure, mustaches do not appear above the beard just because of their location on the face. Some think, it is long-hair that is the sign of manhood, and some think, hair at any place is feminine, so they shave their head, beard and mustache (eyebrows and eyelashes are some minor errors in this type of thinking, but minor errors can be tolerated as a common problem in all kinds of thinking). I thought, I can actually devise different classes of man-personalities just based on their preferences for hair on their faces and heads. But before I could shake my knowledge of importance of scales among dinosaurs, one of the students answered the question, “It is the anterior positioned pelvis that allow upright walking”... “That is right. That is why, dinosaurs are not extinct.
We still have them in the form of the birds.” replied the guide with excitement. That answer watered down all my excitements about the dinosaurs. So, all the thrills of Jurassic Park movie were no more than thrills of horror movies (The only horror-movie that I have watched till end is Army of Darkness. The rest are just ridiculous and yucky that I can’t tolerate more than 10 minutes). Whenever, I go to grocery store and see the chicken legs, wings and breasts, I say to myself, “Look, these are the descendants of those great-dinosaurs that for 130 million years were dominant terrestrial organisms. Forget the lion as king of Jungle. We can’t compare the lions with those majestic dinosaurs. “ When I cook them and want to eat them, I excuse the chicken, “Of course, you are the descendants of truly majestic dinosaurs. Sorry for disgracing you by cutting you into pieces and cooking you, but I am hungry and crave for the meaty legs of yours. As you know,  there is no animal-rights to knock my conscience. I can rationalize all these disgraces as my cooking skills.” Although chickens have nothing of those majestic dinosaurs that ruled the earth for long, but I still love them, as they are not like humans that once crashed by forces of history try their best to avoid present and fear to step in future, and take great comforts to go in the glorious pasts of their ancestors, that they have experienced not even a gram of it. Chicken never boast of their ancestors, nor they try to claim any honor for their works, that they themselves have no role in them.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

I Think, We Need To Educate "...."

He found me in my “deep” thoughts, asked in his usual soft voice, “It is cold out here, is something troubling you? … I..I mean, I wonder, if I can be of some help?” … I didn't even notice, when he got there, feeling embarrassed, I re-positioned myself, and tried to appear normal, replied, “Oh, good morning, (trying hard to remember his name, but failed as always)... yeah, it is really freezing-cold out here (finding the question mark still hanging from his curious face, I tried to laugh), ..Ha-ha, you know, my troubles love to grow… they do not like any austerity or down-sizing!” … and and then tried to show some manners “Thanks a lot for offering help”... (and then tried to be a little bit funny -which I have never been successful at- to give the normality some gravity of expression...“No worries, man! ...You know, what? my relationship to thinking, is the kind of relationship, that health-conscious people have with oxygen. In order to get relaxed, they practice deep-breathing, and go for walking to get some fresh-air, and upon returning home, they try to fill themselves up with “anti-oxidants” to stop those oxygen with free-radicals, that they fear are actively ageing their cells. I do the same with thinking. I practice deep-thinking to get relaxed, and when the thoughts start worrying me, I try to get rid of them with South-Asian melodies.”… as I finished my rationalization, I tried to see the results of my "funny-efforts" in the form of some sparkling in his eyes...but instead of wide open eyes -as sign of fun- his eyes were narrowed, and by his expressions were signaling to me that, he is more curious than just fun-loving guy. My brain hurried to get in defensive position for his next question… And, as was expected, he asked, “Hmm, so, what was you struggling with,....was it an early morning relaxation by some deep-thinking, or getting rid of worries by melodious-memories?”... (Ah, these curious people!!! they don’t get impressed by funny-efforts at all, and make you feel that everything is just a problem to be solved..may be, I also have learned to be stubborn at times,- though, I hate to be- so, I tried to give my “sense-of-humor”, a second chance to amuse him)..."ha-ha, it was totally opposite of them. Actually, I was sugaring-up my brain by some silly ideas… I don’t know, if you have heard the story of that shepherd, who is laying in his cozy-barn, seeing his well-fed cattle relaxing, asking himself, I am sleeping in this warm place and so are my cattle. What about those wild animals, who have to spend all night outside in this freezing cold? Alas, my barn is so small, and the wild animals are countless, shy and unfriendly. What should I do to help them? He keeps thinking and fails to find any solution. Tired and helpless, he falls in sleep… I feel, I am not different to that shepherd. I keep thinking about my "people”... and then, in order to make sure, he has gotten my point, I soon corrected my last statement, “Well, it is not much of thinking, but rather worrying”... (a little pause-I think, he was trying to come up with a to-the-point question, as his face was signaling that, some sort of serious thought-process was going on in his head-)... “What exactly you are worried about mostly?”... boom! I wasn't prepared for the precision of the question, and I tried to escape answering it, “Just ask me, what is not worrying me, as the list has no ending”... “OK, let me ask it this way. What was worrying you, this morning?” …I thought, OK, let me take off my guards, and tell him, about the thoughts that were running in my mind. He might have his own opinion about the subject, and that would be interesting to know, “Well, most of the mornings that I pass the street behind us, there is a kindergarten, and I see the teachers line up the children, and take them out to teach them very basic things, for example, everything that are the sides of roads, from traffic signs, signals, how to cross the roads, bus-stops, facilities in the town, and how to interact with people on the streets. In short, they teach children, how to live and behave, before they teach them how to read and write. I take great interest in it, as despite appearing not much important is actually, the most important thing. Learning how to behave, knowing your rights and respecting others’ rights is something, that makes not only your life easy, but also other people’s lives easy.” … “That is not a worry. That is just a realization of something, that people long have devised and implemented” he appeared to be eased off… I hurriedly added more details to defend my position, “I mean, one is needed to pass traffic rule exam, take a safe-driving class and pass the road test, befor he/she is able to put a car on the road… It is in the interest of the driver and in the interest of everyone on the road, then I wonder, how is it possible that people run public institutions, like madrassahs, mosques, schools, organizations and ministries without any kind of proper education, and without showing any kind of efficiency?”... I guess, he got some of my points, “Yeah, Occasionally, I come across the reports from your country, and it is really sad”... I got a chance to explain it
in a little bit more detail, “Since 2000, we had almost 8 years of a military-civilian democracy, and it didn't
work, and then we had 5 years of civilian-democracy, and it is not working either. We had Imran Khan’s Pop-Mullah mix “revolution” through general election, and Tahir-ul-Qadri’s “revolution” through sit-in protests in the capital city with no net results on the ground. There are some basic problems that why things do not work. The problem is with the people, and with the system. I strongly believe that the whole society, including me, need education in knowing our rights, ways to protect it, and respecting the rights of others  more than literacy, just like those kindergarten children. For people who run any organization, and public office needs to pass the test, like drivers. It is in interest of everybody.” I stopped to see his reaction to my layman kind "utopia", of analogies, and over-generalized solutions… “Although, I am not much familiar with ground realities, but no one can deny the importance of education. You said that nothing is working, so do you have some thoughts on the system?” ... I felt that, his curiosity had lighted again. And, I was assuming that he knows much, so I don’t have to go into details for everything, and just need to point to the direction, and he will figure out, how this utopia will unfold. I just gave an outline, “Although, I am not saying that it is going to solve the problems in few years, or even it is going to work, but there must be a starting point. As I see no other checks, because neither military, nor supreme court proved to be a check on degrading-governance, except the people, I favor some sort of direct-democracy. For the whole decade government remained indecisive over action against terrorists and their supporters, creating more provinces, and ….blah blah blah. If there is a mechanism where people could ask for referendum, it will solve the indecisiveness. Otherwise, elections, noisy debates on media, sit-in protests and suo-moto-actions do not make some progress towards solving the problems at all.” … “You have some points here, but I am not sure, how they will look in practice, especially, in a country, where minorities are increasingly under more pressure. Direct democracy may put their survival in danger, you know…” I was sharing his fears, “I agree with you” and we both were standing there, with no clear idea,… and I guess, now, he had some idea of how, some of my worries were looking like… I took out my cell-phone from my pocket to check the time and said, “The bus should be here in 2-3 minutes”... 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

It Didn't Move Me

I had a small argument with my this new friend. His name is..., wait, I am trying to remember.. I know, it is really rude to forget someone's name, particularly, if he is your friend, but oddly, I feel that confessing to your friend, that you have forgotten his name, in just a few minutes of hearing it, by asking his name again, is even more rude. It is what actually happened. He told me his name, and few minutes later, I was struggling to remember his name. You guessed it right, if I had forgotten it as I met him, how can I remember his name now? I agree, but I thought, may be somehow, by a "convection of memories from unconscious to conscious", I get a spark of names, including him. The reason for this little confession is not to appear rude on screen though, but to prepare you for our small argument that we had. 

As soon as I learned about his diverse interests, I got interested to know his opinions about subjects, that only highly-opinionated individuals have (their well-defined definitions). I asked him, "How do you define arts?".... Without any hesitation and quiet confidently he replied, "Any work that move people (thoughtful pause!!!) is a work of art"... Just as his name didn't move me (it might be offensive for some, but that was may be the reason that my brain didn't have a space for it on the desktop of my mind, and removed it to some folder inside another folder in the least used drive, may be Drive- Z, or some place that I don't have access to it), his answer didn't move me either (Hey, I am not suggesting that, he himself was not a work of art: every human is a work of art, by every imaginable definition. It is just that I was trying to be... let me think of a proper word, "critical"... no, that is very soulless word, better to say, a nightmarish word for artists... what about a "learned person"... no, if I were so learned, then I would not ask that question, right?... OK, what about "curious"... YES!!! this is perfect... as anybody can be curious...neither rude, nor naive... all good :) OK, let's move on. So, I tried to be curious, and I asked him, again (while scratching my chin just to give my curiosity a visual expression), "What do you mean by moving people?" and soon tried to explain my question, "People are moved by wars, lawlessness, economic meltdowns, immigration, technologies, political entanglements and scientific theories that are in conflict with established beliefs more than Michael Angelo's Last Supper or by The Old Guitarist from Picasso's blue period?" ... He grinned (may be he was amused by my naive explanation), "Oh! You have a very narrow perspective of arts. What you are talking about, is fine art" ...He leaned his head towards me (May be he was feeling taller like Sarkozy at that moment) and continued, "Arts can as destructive as war waged by smart-machines that are created by best minds, or can be very constructive such as the three gorges dam. It can be just a theory that changes the self-image of humanity like theory of evolution, or a novel such as Harry Potter that expands imaginations to world of fantasies" .... Well, frankly, I was trying to come up with another more sensible question, but I was totally blank. May be, from my nervousness, he understood that I am ... well, again, I don't know what he guessed ... After a pause of silence, he further explained, "In short, humans are moved either by awe or by something beyond their control and both of them are work of art"... May be, I have been moved so many times, that I was not prepared to be moved again (I belong to the cradle of super-arts: a place famed for conflicts and wars since dawn of humanity, and may remain so till end of humanity, and I already had too much of it) by his definition of art. So, I changed the topic... (By the way, I was not moved at all ;) ....(Again, you guessed it right, the people like me, may be moved by smiles, kindness, and magnanimity, things that are getting scarcer by each passing day in our part of world than those super-works of arts)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Picturing Saudi Arabia in Words: Part 2

Juhayman Al-Otaybi 
Words have the power to picture, what imaginations have done to a memory, what beliefs have done to imaginations, what experiences have done to beliefs, what life has done to experiences, and what companions have done to the life. May be the Arab Bedouins had discovered the power of the words as Lacey picture them in his words, "Juhayman means "Angry Face," deriving from jahama, the past tense of the yatajaham, meaning to set your features grimly. Arabia's Bedouin have a tradition of bestowing ugly, tough-guy names on their children. They believe it keeps trouble at bay in the troublesome world-though in the case of Juhayman Al-Otaybi, "Angry Face" of the Otayba tribe, the name came to stand for incredible trouble. With his wild beard and wild eyes , Juhayman had the look of Che Guevara about him, perhaps even Charles Manson. In November and December 1979, Angry Face horrified entire Muslim world when he led hundreds of young men to their deaths in Mecca."

In part 1 of this knol, it was mentioned that, it was the alliance of Abdul Wahhab with House of Saud, that set the boundaries of the modern geography of Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism is principally a puritanical movement, which reject modernism as innovation in the faith. The third King from House of Saud, King Faisal was relatively modernist and set to modernize Saudi Arabia. In 1973 Arab-Israel war, King Faisal boycotted oil sale to US and this led to skyrocketing of oil-prices. The immense wealth from oil-price-rise changed the shapes of Saudi towns, cities, and lifestyles, and behaviors of Saudis. These changes were seen as corruption by some in the Wahhabi state and some chose to return back to the life styles during the  Prophet and His companions (salaf) and started calling themselves as salafis. Juhayman was one of them. Here is how Lacey picture Juhayman group's of salafis:

......"We all slept on a mud floor," remembers Nasser Al-Huzaymi, who had dropped out of school and come to Madina seeking purpose in his life through religious devotion. "We had no telephone, and no plaster on the walls. We wanted to live as simply as possible, just like the Prophet's Companions. But we needed to read and study the Koran, so after some discussion, we considered that a single electric light-bulb was acceptable."

There were many such discussions.

"Did the Prophet eat Chicken?" asked someone in the middle of meal.

"A good question," said Juhayman.

So the eating stopped, and brothers posed over their copies of the Koran and the Hadith. Juhayman kept his books in a huge, locked tin box that was welded into the back of his pickup truck, and at moments like this he undid the padlock to share the contents of his traveling library. It did not take much time to track down the authority for chicken consumption: one verse from the Koran envisioned the Companions relaxing in heaven, consuming "fruits, any that they may select, and the flesh of fowls, any that they may desire."

Chicken was OK, then- the meal could resume."...........

Picturing Saudi Arabia in Words: Part 1

This quote is ascribed to Napoleon, "A picture is worth of a thousands words", but the problem with pictures are that, they only show skin-deep of reality. To see what is under the skins, we need the assistance of words. This is why books still matter, despite of ease, access, affordability and convenience of taking  and presenting, pictures and videos. The problem with words is that, they are easily manipulated and are open to interpretations. Still, the words can picture things that no camera might ever be able to ... Just for sake of comparison, I like to put two pictures of orientals side by side, one in words, and another with a camera, by legendary British female archaeologist and spy Gertrude Bell from her book, "Syria: The Desert & The Swan (Find it at the  bookshelf's history section)

"The Oriental is like a very old child. He is unacquainted with many branches of knowledge which we have come to regard as of elementary necessity ; frequently, but not always, his mind is little pre- occupied with the need of acquiring them, and he concerns himself scarcely at all with what we call practical utility. He is not practical in our acceptation of the word, any more than a child is practical, and his utility is not ours. On the other hand, his action is guided by traditions of conduct and morality that go back to the beginnings of civilisation...."

The history of South and Central Asia is shaped by great games, cold war between super-powers and now cold wars between regional powers. One of the regional power is Saudi Arabia, and it is important to learn about her, in order to understand, a lot of whys, that might arise from news of the region. As I am not an expert in the subject, I try to present some of the pictures that I get through books. So here are some pictures in words by Robert Lacey from his book, "Inside The Kingdom" (First a picture of the country's geography and history)

1. Why Al-Saud Family Matters?

"Think of central Arabia as being in three parts- the oil fields in the east, the holy cities of Mecca and Madina in the west, and largely barren desert in the middle. At the beginning of the century, and for most of the previous centuries of the Arabian history, those three geographical units were separate countries and, to some degree, cultures. It is the modern achievement of the House of Saud, through skilled and ruthless warfare, a highly refined gift for conciliation, and, most particularly, the potent glue of their Wahhabi mission, to pull those three areas together so that, by the end of twentieth century, the world's largest oil reserves were joined, sea to sea, to the largest center of annual religious pilgrimage in the world- and to their capital in the wahhahi heartland of Riyadh. That is the historical significance of the Saudi camel jockeys. If it were not for Ibn Saud and his sons, the oil fields now called Saudi would probably be another overly affluent, futuristic emirate like Kuwait or Dubai along the Persian Gulf coast, all lagoon estates and Russian hookers.... "

2. Why House of Saud adapted Wahhabism?

"Born in the Islamic, or Hijrah, year of 115 (1703-4 in the Western, Gregorian Calender), Mohammad Abdul Wahhab learned Koran at an early age. Traveling to holy cities of Mecca and Madina as a teenager, he went on to Basra, in Iraq, to continues his religious studies. By the time he came to dry and austere area of Qaseem, north of Riyadh, in A.H 1153 (A.D. 1740), the thirty-seven-year-old preacher had come to feel that the Muslims of his time has gone grievously astray. People gave superstitious reverences to domes and tombs, even to rocks, caves, and trees that were associated with holy men; they dressed luxuriously, smoked tobacco, and indulged in singing and dancing that did not accord with his own austere reading of the Koran.

Ibn Abdul Wahhab condemned these practices as shirk (polytheism). Calling on true Muslims to return to the central message of Islam, "There is no god but God," he led campaigns to stop music and to smash domes and gravestones in the name of God's Oneness. He and his followers liked to call themselves muwahhidoon, monotheists. They did not consider themselves as separate school of islamic thought- they felt they were simply going back to the basics. But their critics derisively called them Wahhabis, and many of Najd's settlements rejected preacher's puritanical attacks on their pleasures.

Then the first Wahhabi encountered Mohammad Ibn Saud, the ambitious ruler of Dariyah, a small oasis town near the even smaller oasis of Riyadh. History was made. In A.H 1157 (A.D 1733) the two Mohammads concluded a pact. Ibn Saud would protect and propagate the stern doctrines of Wahhabi mission, which made Koran the basis of government. In return, Abdul Wahhab would support the ruler, supplying him with "glory and power". Whoever championed his message, he promised, "will, by all means of it, rule lands and men."

So it proved. In the following year the preacher proclaimed Jihad, holy war, to purify Arabia, and after a series of bloodthirsty military campaigns, the Wahhabi armies swept into Mecca in April 1803 (A.H. 1218), extending Saudi authority from Persian Gulf to the Red Sea. For a moment the House of Saud controlled more territory than the fledgling United States".

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Tribute to Nelson Mandela

I may not need the approval of neuroscience to state that, experiences change behaviors (if I am not in the position to say, they change brain), as I have observed all around me, and have noticed and been aware of my own "growing up". Still, neuroscience tells us that experiences actually do change the brain structures and functions (called neuroplasticity). My experiences might change my brain, that somehow may translate in changing my behaviors. That is important to me, and might be important to some linked with me, like my siblings and close friends. And it is not just me. We all go through these processes. However, there are some men who stand out in this process than rest of us. The changes that comes through their experiences do not remain limited to their brains, or those immediately linked to them. They change the structure and functioning of institutions, and even more important the worldviews of people around the world. The bitter experiences of Apartheid South Africa  did change Mandela BUT in response, Mandela changed not only the Apartheid South Africa, but his struggles resonated across the globe to change the worldviews of people from societies, with totally different bags of experiences. I really like the way Jesse Jackson describes the changes in Mandela, "Suffering breeds character. Character breeds faith. In the end faith will not disappoint." Yes, Mandela died and injustice still lives on, but so is his legacy, teachings and struggles. RIP Mandela