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 :)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Conversations With An Afghan Teacher: Part 5

Perhaps, it was the lens of identity through which I like most had looked at our culture, as the “Afghan” teacher suggested. I was proud of it and anything said against it hurt my ego. At the first conversation, I realized that I loved the image of the culture (as my natural ID) more than the culture, and in practice, I wasn’t that enthusiastic about it. It allowed me to set aside my ego and rethink it. In the process, I faced the reality that I was pride of a collection of things and practices that had very little intellectual foundation. 

I used to go to the library of center of excellence in mineralogy after my classes to do some reading. It was the quietest part of the University and I barely came across another person there in days. That day, I got out of University soon after I finished my classes. By that time, Hazaras had been attacked several times by the terrorists, still, Saryab road and surrounded areas had not turned into a no-go-area for Hazaras yet, and instead of Sabzal road, I rode through backstreets to cut the travel time as well as to avoid the crazy drivers and their overloaded trucks. All the way, I rehearsed my questions. By the time, I arrived at Hussain Abad road, I had rehearsed my questions several times and I felt, I was ready to face the teacher. The feelings gave me shots of relaxation and confidence. I parked my bike next to a popcorn cart, bought a bag of freshly popped warm-creamy-salty popcorn and sat next to a watch vendor on the front-step of a store. The street was packed with people and there were plenty to not get bored. 

The town was new and rapidly expanding. It happened many times that someone inquired about a street or a neighborhood and I had no clue. The streets frequently changed names and no postal address was assigned to any house or any other building in the town. The streets of the town was already aged and worn out. Like a young overweight person, she struggled to go with everyday life. There was a clear division between the city and the sky that watched over her. While the city was deeply segregated and the government services were unequally “distributed”, the sky shared sunshine and polluted air equally to all the creatures. Like the people, the valley’s bedrocks were broken and wrenched by active faults and folds and had plenty of fossilized water. I worried about a time when the thick forest of the people gasp for fresh air and water like creatures of a drying pool. The absence of prominent buildings informed visitors that “important” persons didn’t consider the town worthy of themselves, and in a society obsessed with VIP culture, that simply meant, the resident of the town weren’t important at all. Though the town was very humble, she possessed the strange ability to provoke immense emotions. She charmed me with the abundant young faces who rushed from a school to another school and from one academy to another one. The broken streets between those schools and academies were the only paths left to hopeful tomorrows. And, she tormented my soul with visibly exhausted middle-aged and older men and women whose sunken eyes struggled to remain open under the load of worries. 

I saw the teacher coming. Only his age and relaxed walking differentiated him from students. 

“Salam Ustad.” I offered popcorn as I approached him. “Do you recognize me?”

“Salam.” he picked few popcorn. “Yes, yes, why not…. so, what we are discussing this time, politics, culture or something else?” he asked. I liked his style. He saved time by avoiding formal repetitive inquires about health, business, studies, family...blah, blah, blah… 

“What about an easy and practical definition of culture?” I suggested.

“Basha (OK), basha (OK)” he smiled. 

We walked for a while without talking. He maintained his light smile. “Do you agree that we all have unique set of habits, both healthy and unhealthy ones?” 

“That’s obvious!” I replied.

“Just as each individual has a set of unique habits, each society has a set of collective habits and that’s their culture.”

For a while, I couldn’t think of anything. I needed time to process the definition. I prepared and rehearsed some questions about cultural “features” and the processes that shaped them. The conversation took a different track than I anticipated from very beginning, nonetheless, I liked the explanation. It was definitely simple and practical. Still I needed something that I could call “intellectual”.

“Ustad, do you remember, the other day you asked me, if I feel better by participating in happy occasions like marriage parties and Eids?”

“Yes, yes, I remember…” he interrupted.

“Don’t you agree that the more knowledge a person gains, he grows more discontent with his situation?”

“For example?” he asked.

“Like, when I was a kid, everything seemed perfect and I enjoyed everything. As I grew up and learned more about our past and present, I became discontent with almost everything.” 

“In that sense, yes, I do agree.”

“You may also heard Socrates believed that, ‘Knowledge is virtue.”

“Yes. I know that…..”

“Then, Do you think, discomfort is also virtue?” I interrupted him. 

“Huh” he chuckled. “Before I express my opinion on the relation of knowledge and comfort to virtue, I want to tell you what I think about notion of virtue…”

“That’s fair.”

“My understanding is that the concept of virtue has considerably evolved. From code of Hammurabi to the time of Greeks and Romans, the concept of honor or an eye for an eye stood at the core of concept of virtue. If you was harmed and you couldn’t exact an revenge, you had no honor. The good warriors were celebrated as national heroes. The tribal societies of our region still stand on the same concept. You may have heard that a tribal chief proudly boasted his first killing at age of twelve in an interview . The Christians upgraded the concept of virtue by declaring that love and forgiveness is more virtuous than revenge. Saints gained higher ranking than warriors. Islam introduced the classes of virtues, Qisas (revenge), diyya (compensation money) and forgiveness. Islamic saints were good warriors as well as kind and merciful. In modern world, the nations have agreed on human rights, and now, human rights is a global virtue. My point is that the concept of virtue is not a fixed one. It is evolving, and so are the concepts of knowledge and comfort…”


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