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 :)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Conversations With An Afghan Teacher: Part 7

He took a pause and looked at me. I guess, he wanted to make sure that I followed him. At least that was, how I felt. My feeling wasn’t baseless. It was a common habit of all the teachers that I encountered; when they had to explain something of importance, difficult or spoke for long, they paused and asked, if they were followed. 

“Interesting!” I replied.

We were close to our street. On the main road a large truck with all those showy decorations (my uncle called them shrines) blocked the road for vehicles. Only pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists could pass through the space between the truck and the wall. Two laborers unloaded the hundred kilograms sacs of flours off the truck on their backs. Usually, It took three of us (my father and two of his sons) to pull one of those flour sacks on a wheelbarrow from the store to home. The one who pulled the wheelbarrow definitely expected appreciation as if he had accomplished a difficult task. 

It was dismissal time of the schools (and the beginning of second shifts in some schools). The street was full of students. Some of the female students wore scarves, some dupatta, some shawls and some chadar. Male students dressed in traditional shalwar-kameez and some in pants and dress shirts. It was just another school day. Students walked in both directions, in groups, chattering and laughing. 

Our conversation hadn’t finished and I didn’t want to say goodbye to the teacher without knowing why he wanted a culture that helped people to feel better about themselves. We stopped at the street corner and continued our conversation.

“I highlighted some important historical events just to bring you where we both stand.” There wasn’t anything extra-ordinary about where we stood. Our town was a poor, neglected town in a poor, neglected province of a third world country that struggled with messy multi-level, local and regional conflicts. While even our houses hadn’t postal addresses, how could I believe that we were moving along the events of our time? I felt we were just following the trails that others had already walked. And our disagreements were on what trail take to reach a better place? 

“Have you noticed that most of the students wear dresses that are different from what their parents wear?

“That’s obvious. Parents aren’t expected to wear uniforms of their children?” I tried to crack a joke but the teacher didn’t laugh. That was a bad joke.

“Whenever I see all these different uniforms, they fill me with hope. Those uniforms represent different visions for the future. They remind me that the parents have many choices for education of their children and which school system will attract most students will depend on how their students will perform. It also shows the openness of our people….”

“But don’t you think that these variations may divide our people?” I interrupted.

“I understand your concern.” The teacher answered. “And you are not alone in that regard. Remember, I counted a number of recent failures just to illustrate that we live in uncertain times, and in uncertain times, it is not safe ‘to put all your eggs in one basket’. It is a tested prescription from ancient times, that the more diverse your assets are, the minimum is the risk of your losses. And our children our real assets. Aren’t they?”

“Balay Ustad.” I nodded. “I get your point about modern schools but what about religious institutions? Do you think, they still have usage in our time?”

He smiled. “Instead of yes or no answer, let me put your question in its context and then let you finalize the conclusion.”

“Balay Ustad.”

“ Have you heard this quote, “religion is the opium of masses”?”

“Yeah, I hear it frequently and I assume that it is a darling quote for some of my friends.” I laughed.

“Let me tell you this.” he adjusted his glasses. “Don’t think that I am a mullah or intend to replace mullahs....” and rubbed his “belly”. 

“I know that.” I interrupted to assure him that I believed him. In those times, it was a growing trend to look at religious people as stupids. To avoid the embarrassment of being considered as stupids, the learned individuals, either didn’t mention religion at all, or if they mentioned, they quickly clarified that they are not religious at all. Contrary to individuals who were filled with the air of intellect, the teacher didn’t exhibit any arrogance of understanding or intellect. He just behaved like a teacher, offered his shoulders for the curious ones to climb and see the other side of the walls, still, I wanted to assure him that I didn’t think of him as a “stupid” person.

“... Despite of my deepest desires to look at everything with pure reason, over time, I have learnt to distinguish between ideas that look reasonable and those that are actually practical. For example, in the months of Ramadan and Muharram, my friends remind me now and then, that ‘religion is the opium of masses’ and count all those money, time and skills wasted on those occasions that could otherwise go into building schools, hospitals, roads and other positive things. I do agree with them. One doesn’t need to be Socrates to agree with them. But then, I see the massive consumption of tea, coffee, cigarettes, snuffs, hookahs, opium, painkillers, hallucinogens, alcoholic beverages, and those are the list of things that I know. From time to time, I hear the names of new compounds that are even more potent, and like any other field, I can only expect for more dangerous stuffs…” he paused again to readjust his glasses. 

“Yes Ustad.” I nodded. Unlike our first conversation, this time, he was in mood of explaining things in detail and I wanted him to continue. 

“... And you know all those stuffs are consumed on such massive scales that an entire world of subcultures and dark economies have developed. In a realistic sense, that is the real “opium of masses...”.

“Yes Ustad.” I got his point. I wanted to ask if he was defending one “opium” against another but I let him finished his point. 

“....When I see the popularity of both religion and other stuffs as long back as I can track the history and across the cultures, I have no other choice but to conclude that, the masses need opium or even sometimes, I inclined to think, humans in general are addicted for need of some sort of addiction. You don’t allow them a “spiritual opium” or religions, they will turn to the “material opium”. 

“Ustad, In that sense, movies, songs and video-games (social media, esp, Facebook wasn’t that common in those days) are also opium of masses.”

“Oh, Yes. I forgot to mention them…” he laughed. “Again, my aim is not to favor one thing over another. I want to distinguish between practicality and reason.” 

“Balay (yes) Ustad. Balay Ustad.” I repeated to assure him that I followed him.

“You know, why I’m so obsessed with distinguishing between practicality and reasoning?”

“From your personal experience, I guess.” I threw a stone in the dark. 

“From witnessing the collapse of Soviet Union. For a large part of my youth, I believed the Soviet Union, with all her brilliant scientists, engineers, economists, social scientists, and public servants is the beacon of practical reasoning. But then, I witnessed her collapsing under the enormous weight of the plunders and scattering into daughter-states. Her daughter states are still struggling to come in terms with the realities of the wider world. I used to have a teacher who told us that engineers are the most logical people. If an engineer constructs a building of his liking and ignores reality, the reality will soon deconstruct his building into a lump of concrete, steel and glass. I don’t doubt that Soviets had the best engineers but they constructed a super-state of their liking ignoring the reality and as my teacher used to say, the reality deconstructed their darling super-state. Religious institutions have been part of our society for centuries and they are still standing and that indicate that they are still having some usage, otherwise, they were long deconstructed….”

“Ustad, but we also have seen the spread of hatred and destruction by the promotions of religious institutions?”

“That’s right. As I said, if you construct a building of your liking ignoring reality, the reality will deconstruct it. As you know better than me that, the States opposed Soviet Union worked as a together as a team for over two decades to turn the religious institutions from places of spiritual services to places of training and recruiting militants to counter the expansion of Soviet Union and the rival states. The ongoing war on terror is the biggest evidence that it was a very bad engineering, and the world has to pay the costs deconstruction and of fallout for a long time.” 2 

Continued…. 

Footnote,


2. Since, at the time of conversation, there was no sign of Arab Spring and the following Arab Winter, I have to add a footnote here. It seems, despite the earlier failures, there are some countries, for whom, turning religious institutions into factories of militancy are still more beneficial than the costs of resulting destruction. The benefits to costs ratio may be higher for now but as we have seen it in Pakistan, those rations will finally start to change, and they will have to pay the overdue costs of dealing with the destruction, the militants and the mindsets for a long time.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Conversations With An Afghan Teacher: Part 6

“Are you suggesting that human rights activists are modern saints?” I interrupted. 

When I asked a question, he nodded his head repeatedly , while maintaining a light smile. His humble gestures reduced the gapes of our ages and knowledge levels. 

“I am sure, you have heard the names of Che Guevara, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela?”

“I knew about the three others but Martin Luther King, I recently learnt about from a textbook on American Politics. I guess, very few people around here know him as I have never heard anyone speaking about him.”

“I know people around here consider Che Guevara a bigger saint than Mandela and some may even consider Gandhi as villain. “ he laughed. “For obvious reason. But I mentioned those four names as they are generally celebrated as some sort of saint across the globe. My point is though each of those personalities had different ideologies and struggled against different systems, they stood for equal rights and in an age, human rights were recognized globally, their struggles were considered noble and earned them special statuses…”1

“If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that in our time, human rights is virtue, not knowledge?”

“I am glad that you asked that question. Though the answer is very obvious, especially to a person like me who had suffered significantly from it....” I noticed the rush of blood in his face. “When I was at the same age as you are or probably a bit younger, I found myself torn apart between three systems of knowledge, each rejecting the validity of two others. The communists thought, they were the real representative of rationality and rejected libertarians as modern sophists who had narrow world-view that revolved around profits. Libertarians rejected communists as anti-intellectuals who wanted to punish talented individuals for their talents and spread stupidity. These two groups stressed that they are the real face of Science. And there were Mujahideen who stressed to bend all forms of knowledge to fit their Islamic worldview, as the words of God were the only true knowledge. The war of those three worldviews destroyed the world of our generation…” he took a long breath. “So you see, we are no more living in the world of Greeks, and like Greeks, we can’t propose, knowledge is virtue…”

“The Athenians punished Socrates to death, blaming him for misguiding the youths of Athens, and Taliban (students of madrassa) are killing people indiscriminately for what they consider misguided lifestyles.” I interrupted. 

“Unfortunately, that is true.”

I didn’t want to turn our conversation into talks about news (The news and talks about the news were taking over normal conversations. On TV, at homes, schools, stores, workplaces and roadsides, almost everywhere people talked news. I had developed “news-acid-reflux”. 

“I feel like, somehow, you believe, our culture should solace people. Am I right?”

“To a large extent, yes.”

“What made you to develop such tendencies?”

“May be I am a bit more inclined to link current trends to events that shaped them. I guess, that is how I was taught to see the world. Anyway, “amadam bar sari matlab” (farsi phrase: I returned to the point). In my opinion, soon after world war second, people were confused, distrusted traditional sources of identities and looked for alternatives. Philosophers, men and women of letters, artists and movie stars became very influential and the intellectuals gravitated towards introspection. People were open and readily accepted new ideas and were ready to experiment new things. The popularity of existentialism, deconstructionism, “skimmed-Buddhism” and hippie movements are few examples that demonstrated people’s changed moods. My understanding is that all of those movements failed to open up new ways and that’s why we see a trend of looking to Science for guide. The popularity of tech-products, sci-fi, star-wars and dystopia are the fallout of those failures. In East, people turned to the golden times in their relative histories and tried to reincarnate those golden societies. Islamism and nationalism spread throughout of the region and created the mess that we are currently “enjoying” their fruits in forms of the distrust, hatred and terrorist activities…”

Continued…..

Footnote 

At the time of conversation, I (and most probably the teacher) wasn’t familiar with the concept of social entrepreneurship and neo-Philanthropy. so I mention as footnote to this conversation. These are new trends that are creating new billionaire-saints. The tech-billionaires create investment organizations that invest in the startups or initiatives that have or supposedly to have vast social impacts. Although the moves are positive and they may some have good impacts (as they are able to pull vast resources and attract experts people), still institutional philanthropism will cost taxpayers more (as the significant tax savings of those institutions will have to be compensated by the taxes of lower income people, and as decision makers are few rich individuals instead of people's representatives, their benefits might be in places of particular choices.)

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…”

Continued….

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Conversations With An Afghan Teacher; Part 4

I brain-stormed to come up with my own definitions and when no more spot left on the page for another circle and a line to go around all those closely spaced circles, and their connecting lines to the main circle, I looked at my mind-map to find the most relevant ideas and organize them in a meaningful order. The mind-map appeared like the pile of second-hand clothes at landa-bazaar and finding the relevant ideas were like finding decent clothes of your size from those piles. 

The year was 2004, and I was obsessed with Geology, checked out a lot of geology books and spent most of my time reading them and looked at everything through lenses of the geological concepts. What I liked most about Geology was that it explained every land feature through the mechanism of plate tectonics. It was a surreal experience and had changed my taste permanently. The other neat thing about Geology that had won over me was, though its subjects were mostly Earth’s history but the processes that shaped Earth’s history were still alive and observable, and in that sense, I was in love with the idea of “Present is key to the past.” 

I looked at my landa-bazaar type mind-map and tried to find “features” that I could link them in “plate tectonic” style. It was like trying to cook a popular hotel recipe at home but not knowing the proper ingredients and measures and still expecting the same good look and taste. 

The biggest circle in the center of the page hosted the phrase, “Forces that cause appearances and disappearances of cultural features”, and it was connected to other circles hosted those “forces” and each circle had little notes with tiny fonts sizes to include some features. War, Famine, Conversion, Invention and Major Constructions were the main forces and most of the notes, explained nearly the same thing, like, those forces resulted in migration, resettlement, new rivalries, economic competitions and transfer of ideas and material wealth, changes in gene pools...blah blah blah.

As I look through some of my old notes that somehow survived and are associated with those days, it occurs to me that my biggest struggle was to be clear about the “transition”. In those days, I used to hear the expressions from different people, “we are in transitional stage”, but no one explained what they meant by transitional stage and that worried me. Like many, I believed, change was the only constant. Paradoxical that it had sound, it made perfect sense to me. I made a list of cultural features that were rapidly disappearing and a parallel list of cultural features that were becoming mainstream and the “forces” behind those appearances and disappearances. It was two column list and with tiny notes all around it that explained and compared those features. The result were a set of questions, or concerns, to be more precise. 

Usually, I come across the conversations about “progress” and I was aware of points made in favor and against of the notion. My biggest concern was, what a real progress meant? I compared my list, and almost all of the changes appeared to me as results of “improved purchasing power”, access to “modern products” and changes in perspectives as results of “political developments in the region.” All those changes were introduced by people other than people of my community. We were just the end consumers. That was a very shallow and superficial concept of “progress”. They were like teeny-tiny form of the “progress in the Gulf states” as result of their purchasing power from oil exports. That made me to question a number of other major concepts that we held so dear. Were our concepts of morality, justice, generosity (big heart), success in this world and world after, living the lives of freemen (just, brave, bowing to no one but God), brotherhood (equality)....blah blah were as shallow and superficial as our concepts of “progress”? If we had “longer measuring stick” for those ideals than the rest, did they translate in deeper, more meaningful and content lives? Did our culture really base on those ideals? Were the changes indicative of moving up or down on the yardstick? 

Those were the really messy questions. What made me really uncomfortable was that in practice, we, as a community had mistaken the improved purchasing power of few with progress, and that blinded us of our century long uprooting that were hollowing us from inside. I did try to think of clear messages, so I could went out and stirred debates but everything I thought weren’t convincing enough to me. I thought about the Afghan teacher and decided to meet him to see, if he had something to offer? 

Continued….

Friday, December 11, 2015

Conversations With An Afghan Teacher: Part 3

I got busy with my routines and forgot about the conversation. I guess, over time my mind’s “recycle bin” had been grown more active at the cost of rest of it. Anything that didn’t touch me deeply was quickly trashed into the recycle bin. I should say it in my defense that I wasn’t arrogant and thinking of myself high but as I imagined that there were so many fascinating things that I wasn’t aware of, I simply didn’t want to waste my time on less fascinating things. An afternoon, on of way back from University, I saw the teacher again. I paddled faster my bicycle past the teacher so he couldn’t see me. 

I had a mixed feelings about our first conversation. Some of the teacher’s ideas were new for me but as I felt that I had embarrassed myself by jumping from one question to another without adding something meaningful, I wasn’t ready to go through another session of embarrassments that soon 😛. 

I escaped from being noticed by the teacher but I failed to take him out of my mind. In the conversation, he mentioned the “wisdom of East”, and at that age wisdom appeared to me something mysterious that special people possessed. I wanted to know what teacher actually meant by wisdom of East. My earlier experiences with what I considered part of the “Wisdom of East” weren’t pleasant. 

I had watched some of the martial arts movies and read some rudimentary books on the power of breathing and concentration exercises and tried some of those exercises without any positive results 🙈. I concluded that one of the two things are true; either those exercises were just imaginations of the charlatans or they needed some special talents and I had no talents for such things. I actually tried to learn them from the “experts” as well. I remember that in our neighborhood, a new Kung-Fu master arrived. He started a class in a dark and damp basement. The basement had neither windows nor stairs. In order to get into the basement, one had to climb down a ladder that was placed against a square hole cut in the floor of first floor. I visited the club several times to see the skill levels of the master. The master had the same hair style, body shape, walked and screamed like Bruce Lee except that Bruce Lee was shorter and didn’t wear the red ribbon like the master. May be Bruce Lee didn’t need red ribbon for evil eyes or personal charisma 🙏. 

I got impressed and enrolled in the class, despite not having money for uniforms. The master allowed to practice with regular activewear. In the class, everyone had a practice partner. The partners practiced kicks and punches on each other and exercised together. My partner was a fat bakery boy who was older than me a couple of years. I really enjoyed punching and kicking his pulpy body. He had heavy hands but his punches didn’t hurt. He wasn’t able to kick and that was fun too. But that wasn’t all. During abdominal exercises the partners had to cross their legs and do the workouts. My partner was a gaseous guy and lost total control during abs exercises and that was disgusting. The basement was already a microcosm of advanced level of global warming. It was hot, damp and filled with smell of perspiration of the students and I like Bangladesh I had to bear the most of my partners greenhouse gases. I bore all those things just to get enlightened by the master’s lectures. At the end of each session, he delivered a brief lecture. But all those lectures were about not using our improved punching and kicking abilities in the street fights. Those lectures didn’t work at all, as I actually started looking for troubles to test the improvements 😈. After a few months, I got bored with repetition and left the class. Years later, a new large multi-story building was constructed which had a large, well-lighted and aerated basement. The master had also earned a good name for himself. I enrolled in the class in hope to see the concepts in the practice. The master, somehow stressed more on improving the physical strength than teaching the art. He kicked and punched with full force on the stomach, back and legs. I left the class in a month as I didn’t want to live with damaged internal organs and nerves all my life. 

As the Afghan teacher didn’t require any special uniform, he didn’t charge me for conversation and I had not to tolerate the greenhouses and beatings, and hoped that the teacher might had known things that I didn’t, I decided to meet him again.


Continued….

Monday, December 7, 2015

Conversations With An Afghan Teacher: Part 2



“There is a renewed interest and disagreements about Hazaragi culture. How do you define a culture?” I asked.

“We are in Hazara Town, right?” He asked me instead of answering my question.

“Haw, I guess, we are.” I chuckled.

“And most of the people who live in this town are Hazara, right?”

“Yes!”

“Then, look around and you see Hazaragi culture.”

“I know that.” I protested. “I expected an educated opinion from you.”

“That’s my opinion.” He smiled.

I couldn’t think of something and there was a bitter silence for a while. I hated when things were abstract, particularly, when real things appeared abstract.

“I can sense your discontent.” the teacher broke the silence. “And I guess, the main reason for your discontent is your dissatisfaction with the culture you are living in. You are not accepting what you are surrounded with and want something more glorious. May be something you take pride in, right?”

He was partially right. I just nodded.

“You see, I am also dissatisfied and want changes. But change without clear understanding of what you want will only result in chaos.”

The word “change” made me think of two groups, socialists and religious groups. Both were clear than the rest in what they wanted. The teacher couldn’t be an Islamist, so he must be a socialist, I thought.

“Do you dream of a classless society or something?”

“A classless society sounds good but I am not an idealist to have such desires.” he smiled.

“What do you want?”

“I am still working on it.”

I couldn’t believe that a middle-aged, apparently thoughtful person wasn’t still clear about the changes he wanted in the society.

“So, all you want is stability?” I asked. “No change, right?”

Let me ask you a few questions.” He asked.

“OK.”

“When you go a marriage party, do you feel more comfortable in the party and return from party more content than your routines days?”

“I am not a party person.” I replied. “I try to avoid marriage parties as much I can.”

“What about Eid days?” he asked another question. “Do you feel happier on Eid days than the rest of the days?”

“No.” It was too embarrassing to tell the reasons that made feel uncomfortable on those days.

“If you don’t feel better on the happiest occasions then, I assume, the sad occasions don’t make you feel better either, right?”

“Right.”

“Don’t you think taking pride in things that make you uncomfortable is a bit unreasonable?”

I was unprepared for the question. Pride was the main driver of the Hazara diaspora of Quetta. Everything (both national and religious) revolved around pride. I felt as if my existence and everything that I stood for was questioned. I couldn’t think of anything and just nodded.

“Have you heard about Buddhas of Bamiyan?”

“Everybody knows about those statues.”

“What comes to your mind when you think of links between the statues and Hazaras?”

“That we were Buddhists before conversion to Islam.”

“Right.” The teacher agreed. “But other than statues, do you recognize any other aspect of Buddhism in our culture?”

“No. But that is not important.” I replied.

“How?” He asked.

“In those days, Buddhism was the religion of Central Asia, South Asia and Far East. It wasn’t limited to Bamiyan. Buddhist statues and stupas were found all across the region.”

“You are right.” He smiled. “The reason I asked you the question is to point out to the fact that during our conversion to Islam, we got rid of our whole heritage. May be you are aware that people from all around world go to what you call “Far East” region in search of mental and physical health. Meditation, yoga, martial arts, traditional healing through massage, herbal teas, acupuncture and food are considered as “wisdom of East”. What is our share in wisdom of East?”

I had not thought on those lines and had nothing to add.

“I am not criticizing our past. I am critical of our present. We are repeating the same mistakes. If we were fortunate enough and had some visionary people, they certainly had preserved good parts of older traditions while embracing the good of new ones. We are once again in the middle of a transitional stage. We are adopting new things and trashing our old tradition but we are doing so just by following the popular trends. We are not critical and that’s the main reason that neither our happy occasions make us feel good nor our sad occasions. In fact we are developing a culture which encourages feeling bad about everything. Our houses look more likes stores than houses, everything is for show-off and there is very little in them to soothe the souls and bodies. Our celebrations are filled with ostentatious things, unhealthy foods and we take pride in things that do not exist any more….”

As we were close to our home, I interrupted him, “What do you suggest?”

“About what?”

“About our culture.”

“It is not me or you who make our culture. It is our people but we have our own roles. If we want our culture to survive and prosper, we have to make mental and physical well-being at the center of our culture. Otherwise, we are only destined for total disintegration. Empty prides are too weak to keep us together....”

“But what our Hazaragi traditional dresses, caps, cuisines and languages?” I interrupted him again. “Aren’t they unique enough to preserve our identity?”

“I am not saying those things aren’t important. But we are no more living in an alienated world. In our world the things you mentioned have become trade goods and trade goods change frequently as market changes….”

We were in front our house. I was so consumed by the conversation that I barely noticed things around me. I invited him for a cup of tea. He declined the invitation by saying that he needed things to do, and promised to meet me again to continue our conversation.


Continued…

Friday, December 4, 2015

Conversations With An "Afghan" Teacher


Although, the conversation is more than a decade old, it is still relevant today:

As I neared Barma Road (Hussain Abad, Hazara Town, Quetta), I heard the loud sounds of noha and matam. I thought a procession was approaching, so I braked my bicycle and waited for the procession to pass. After a minute or two, Abdullah’s pas-sari’s cart showed up. It wasn’t a Muharram procession but Abdullah’s tape-recorder that played loud noha. It was embarrassing and amusing. If people could read my mind, there would a burst of laughter. I was about to mount on my bicycle, when I spotted the “Afghan” teacher. I identified him easily as most of the time he wore khaki overcoat over white shalwar kameez and hold a couple of books in his right hand and walked slow with his head down as if he was looking for something on the asphalt. He was a short, bony and bespectacled man, with brown curly hairs. Although, I had no acquaintance with him but I had seen him many times on the road and from his appearance, I had developed the perception of a thoughtful person and it was my chance to found out. I walked fast and soon, I was walking along the teacher.

“Salam Ustad.”

“Walaikum Salam!” the teacher replied while he looked at me in puzzlement. 

“I guess, you are a teacher.” I asked.

He nodded.

“I have a few questions from you, if you don’t mind.” I continued.

“Befurma (ask please)” he answered politely.

In those days, I was reading an American textbook on politics, I had borrowed from provincial library. It was my first introduction to the Aristotle’s cycle of political change, individualism, social rights movement and libertarianism. I wanted to dig deeper and was looking for more resources on the subjects. Inspired by Socrates, I was also trying to “mind-map” my own concepts.

“How do you define politics?” I asked the teacher.

“You look a reasonable person.” he smiled.

“I don’t know, how much reasonable am I, but I like reasoning and respect people with reasoning.” I replied.

He took out a toffee from his pocket and asked, “How much is the toffee?”

“Char-anna (a quarter of a rupee)”

“Do you like toffees?”

“Yes!”

“Do you often buy toffees?”

“Yes.”

“Do you buy particular toffee brands or you buy any toffee when you go to stores?”

“I am very picky when it comes to toffees!”

“That’s politics.”

“How?” I was puzzled.

“Money is power and when you choose to buy one brand over another, you are actually empowering the company that produces that brand.”

“I never thought it that way.”

“That’s the problem. Even our most literate ones aren’t aware of the power of their actions.” He smiled.

I was embarrassed, and wanted to change the topic.

“There is a renewed interest and also disagreements on Hazaragi culture. How do you define a culture?” I asked.


Continued….