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 :)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Conversations With An Afghan Teacher; Part 10

“There are concepts that you are in love with and find they aren’t perfect, you find a way to live with that fact. Open-mindedness is one of them. Unless you don’t feel strongly about something, you don’t think hard enough to find new ways…”

“Isn’t open-mindedness about throwing out the old concepts and accepting the new ones?” I interrupted. 

“Well,” the teacher fixed the glasses over his nose. His cheeks had grown red. We had stood for long in the sun and had talked for long. “We like to hear and talk about things in abstract, like adaptation, new concepts and change as they make us look good and don’t require explanation. But our minds are structured by our likes and dislikes, and we are condemned with strong desires to bend everything to fit our likes and dislikes than to change ourselves…” 

“But you can’t ignore the facts that humans are curious about new things and also the overall progress force the changes even on the very conservative ones, too?” I interrupted him again.” 

“Recently, I had an interesting observation.” The teacher smiled as he leaned on his left side. “I was invited to a Quran-Khawani (A dinner memorial. Participants recite a chapter of Quran and pray for the deceased person, and dinner is served.) in a neighbor's house. A mix of different age groups were present. I was about halfway into my chapter and some of the participants had already finished their chapters that a young man turned on TV, muted the voice. There was a cricket match. The boys changed their position and moved close to TV and whispered. A group of old men who finished their chapters started talking local politics. During dinner, a conversation, largely with an argumentative-tone broke. The old men complained that the boys disrespected the Quran-Khawani by turning on TV and watching cricket. One of the boys replied, if it was Sang-girag game (a traditional Hazaragi game), the old men hadn’t considered it disrespectful. And that reply ignited a fierce debate on cons and pros of cricket vs sang-girag…”

“Which group you supported?” 

“I was sympathetic with both sides?” the teacher smiled and leaned on his right side.

“How come?”

“Each sides were genuinely defending their likes and expressing their dislikes, and as I was aware of their heart feelings, I was sympathetic with both sides.” he paused to see my reaction.

I hadn’t anything to add.

“Our likes are indoctrinated at very early age. Although, our likes are malleable, the rate of change depends on our levels of exposures and the ability to become comfortable in expressing those likes. As the old men weren’t familiar with the rules of games, terminology of games and players of the games, the lack of those knowledge was a challenge to their status quo. The boys on other hand considered sang-girag a game that had fallen from grace long ago, and they didn’t see any advantage in recognizing themselves with the game…”

“Do you mean, we are open to the changes that strengthen our status in society or raise our status and we oppose to the changes that challenge our current status?”

“If you observe your neighborhood and notice the recent changes, you will find most of the changes are strongly correlated with expressions of social statuses.”

English language centers mushroomed with dawn of the new millennium. Learning english language became a cultural norm and the language centers grew into centers of cultural activities. Yamaha’s 70 CC motorcycles morphed from a vehicle of convenience in the crowded and narrow streets to a vehicle of show-boys for whom the streets were in large, worked as performing stages. Suzuki’s carry vans called band-dabba (closed boxes) became another social phenomenon. Housewives got obsessed with concrete houses. Most of those adaptations were sorts of forced changes due to globalization (telecommunication and digital revolution), the arrival of international coalition forces in neighboring Afghanistan and opening of new opportunities for the english speakers, migrations, narrow streets, politicization of public transport and denial of Hazaras for bus permits between their population enclaves of Hazara Town and Marri-Abad and lower costs of maintenance and protection, however, in a town that lacked public spaces for sublime expressions, houses, streets, and language centers worked as alternative platforms. 

Seeing me pondering, he added, “In the same Quran-Khawani, an elderly man compared the women of his generation and the girls of your generation. The old man complained that women of his time were happy with few pairs of clothes, and the girls of this age refuse to participate to any public event without a new dress for that particular occasion. I explained to the man that dresses and jewlries have become the expressions of social statuses. The old man disagreed. He interpreted it as moral downgrading of the society as general…”

“Let alone women, even children compare their dresses and throw a tantrum at home for the kinds of outfits like those of their friends and peers…”

“Right, right” the teacher laughed. “I face the protests of my children on regular basis. ‘It’s not fair.’ my eldest often son protests. ‘What’s not fair?’ When I ask him, he counts the new possession of his peers and ask, why he doesn’t own them. To him, justice is possessing the same stuffs or more than his peers.” the teacher laughed. 

“His concept of justice appeals to me, too.” I laughed. 

“When you enter a home, you see framed pictures on the display-shelf-walls. Those frames held either, the pictures of the loved ones, popular personalities (an expression of allegiance or ideological connection), great achievements (or celebrating the achievements), best moments of the lives, proud moments in history, something holy and something precious that express the identities, and social status.” added the teacher after a pause. 

“Balay Ustad.”

“Most of framed pictures belongs to the glorious pasts that people identify with.”

“Balay Ustad.”

“I heard that in Pohang University of Science and Technology of South Korea, the framed pictures of nobel prize winners are displayed on a wall. The last frame held the picture of a question mark as challenge to the students of the University.” the teacher looked at me with an obvious question mark on his face.

(The teacher mentioned about pictures of nobel laureates at POSTECH. I checked the POSTECH’s website to confirm it. I couldn’t find information about the wall with the pictures display. Instead, there are four busts of greatest physicists, Edison, Einstein, Maxwell, and Newton along two empty podiums for “Future Scientists of Korea (?)” and Nobel Garden, where Nobel laureates that visited POSTECH planted a tree in the garden.)

“That’s interesting idea, Ustad.” I could only utter those words.

“You are familiar with existentialism?”

“Balay Ustad.”

“I haven’t seen any framed question marks in any home or school or something like that. Have you?”

“No, Ustad.”

“We are photo-frame existentialist. Photo-frame-existentialist frame their passions, allegiances, possessions, potentials and dreams and all those things. Those displays are expressions of their status, or promotion of the statuses. And there are people who capitalize on their strong feelings and utilize them to frame their visions and challenges, and work passionately for them. Those are the futurists.”

“Balay Ustad.

“We usually call adaptations and welcoming of concepts, technologies and stuffs like that strengthen our social statuses as open-mindedness. That’s something common to all social groups, cultures and even animals. That’s not open-mindedness. To me, open-mindedness is your visions for your future and the levels of your open-mindedness depends on your visions. An open society constructs a culture that nourishes and shelters the niches of those futurists.”

“That’s really interesting.”

My young brother carried the thali of naans from tandoor (bakery). “Lalai (brother) Meal is ready.” said he.

“Ustad, please join us for a lunch.” I requested the teacher.

“Tashakor.” he put his right hand over his chest. “I have to go home. They must be worried about me, by now.”


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