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, 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.