Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Book Review- ‘Dear Zari’

Title:          Dear Zari
By:             Zarguna Kargar
Publisher:    Vintage
ISBN:          978-0-099-54218-6
MRP:           Rs 399/-
I am more than happy to present the review of my latest read, ‘Dear Zari’. This book presents the heart rendering cases and real life stories of Afghan women (pre and post war). The book starts with an introduction describing why and how a once beautiful country like Afghanistan has become a victim of war, crushed between two superpowers, the USA and Russia. It has now become a war torn and starving nation, much to the horror of its innocent citizens. The introduction also presents some information regarding the Taliban, Mujahiddin and the Afghan government. The book brings out cases and stories of helpless and hapless women from deep inside the country. The author, Zarguna Kargar has been a victim herself. There are 13 stories in total that throw light on pathetic living conditions and the very culture of Afghanistan that is not at all favorable for women.  

The first story is of the author herself. She describes how despite being an educated and working girl, she was trapped in a bad, violent and loveless marriage at the age of 21 and the kind of shame and opposition she had to face when she decided to call it quits. Also, about her life as a refugee in Peshawar (Pakistan).
All the stories will touch the reader somewhere deep inside and I am sure most of us will stop cribbing about our lives and families. These stories were telecast on the BBC’s show ‘Afghan Hour’ that was, interestingly, produced by the author herself. I was surprised to know the limits of a woman's endurance.  (pic: An afghan woman begs in Kabul)

Some of the stories moved my heart and even made me cry, literally. The stories of Sharifa, author’s school friend in Pakistan to Nasreen from Kabul show how the feelings of a girl hold no relevance to the family and society. Both were married to much older men at a very young age (early teenage). Other woman Shireenjan who was interviewed directly by the author, was given away as a payment by her parents to settle a long standing family feud (Dukhmany). That ten year old girl suffered more than most of us can even imagine. From being raped to being forced to live with cattle, her life has been a hellish one. (Pic: an Afgan victim of domestic violence)

Afghan carpets are famous around the world and are sold at exorbitant rates but have you ever wondered how much darkness and suffocation lies behind that lovely design and embroidery. Samira is one such little girl of nine years who lives in a shanty house in Shiberghan province of Afghanistan. Her family is too poor to afford an education for her so the whole day she weaves carpets along with her mother in a dusty room of her small house. Her brother however, goes to school since her parents think he will carry the family name forward unlike Samira. At this age, she is struggling with health issues like cough, joint pains, body aches and headaches. Her life is confined to that loom, many times bigger than her. (Pic: A little one weaves carpets)

Virginity is also quite overhyped in Afghan society. As a custom, the bridegroom visits the bride’s family the next morning with the white blood-stained hanky, as a gesture to thank them for raising a cultured girl who has maintained her ‘purity’. Girls who do not bleed are often given quick ‘Talaq’, branded as sluts or are ill treated by everyone around. Ilaha’s story is one such that will make you wonder about the deep roots of this old and illogical custom in Afghanistani society.

There are many other stories too that makes us ponder about life and society. However, I would like to mention two stories that I can never forget. One is of Layla and another is of Bakhtawara. Layla, a war widow lost the rights of her children after the death of her husband and is now working as a servant in her own house (her brother’s).

Bhaktawara, a Pashtun woman from Khost province, has a sad and peculiar story. She was forced to act and dress like men since she had had only one brother and her family needed the security of a ‘male’ to save their land from scheming relatives. She was not allowed to marry and instead of colourful bangles, a heavy AK 47 gun now adorns her rough hands. Instead of salwar kamiz, Bhaktawara dresses up like a Pathan man and is a part of the village ‘Jirgah’ or ‘Panchayat’. She is the head of her family just as a man would have been. However, there is another aspect of her life too. Whenever she goes out to her farm for work, on streets and especially on weddings and local functions, she is often teased as ‘narkhazak’ or eunuch. Bhaktawara ignores these dirty remarks she is now used to and carries on the duties of a son as usual. Behind her brave front, there is a woman, who wants the care and protection of a man, a mother who wants to bear her own kids, a girl who dreams of her prince to arrive one day and ask for her hand in marriage. Sadly, she knows that her destiny has been sealed and there is no option left but to kill all her girlish dreams and bear this long painful life the way it is going. Unfortunately, like many other girls forced to become the ‘son’ of their families, she too has reached a point of no return.

This book reveals a lot about Afghan traditions and culture particularly with reference to women. I applaud Zarguna Kargar for presenting such a wonderful work. 
(Pic: Zarguna Kargar)

 I cannot agree more with author Khaled Hosseini’s remark on this book

‘A poignant celebration of human resilience’

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What's So Funny??

Many times, simple things that make us laugh are not at all funny. Instead, if we look a bit deeply, they are an insult to our standards of humor. Not everything that seems strange or out of the box deserves a loud sneer. I am not talking of all the degraded reality shows that go in the name of ‘stand up comedy’ and neither about their cheap double meaning jokes, I am here talking about something else.
A recent article on a popular website got me into the thinking mode. Have we ever wondered about the things that make us laugh? To be more precise, all those topics taken up by the media to ‘entertain’ and make the audience giggle or laugh their ribs out.
That website, (quite reputed by the way), made a crude joke on a very famous yesteryear’s actress just because she has gone for Botox treatment. What is so funny in this? People in the entertainment industry have to take extra care of their looks and  things like hair and skin. It is not just an option for them but rather a necessity. Their livelihood actually depends upon their looks. Who would spend his money to watch a white haired and wrinkled heroin? If we make fun of celebrities just because they go an extra mile for their looks, we must also do the same with middle aged people too, who go for executive MBAs and other courses. With all those chubby aunties sweating it out in gyms and with all those uncles who dye their salt&pepper hair with henna or L’oreal.

It is obvious that a person not only ‘likes’ to rather ‘has’ to spend regularly on things he earns his bread and butter from. For people in the corporate world, updating themselves with current knowledge and technology becomes an essential factor to stay ahead in the race. Those involved in business spend upon machinery and property, those in fields of education and consultancy, spend a lot on employee training. Similarly for those in the showbiz, taking a good care of personality and looks becomes pivotal.

An another aspect is there; I think poking fun on someone’s looks or spilling beans about the same in public is not only silly but morally wrong as well.
So, the next time we roll on the floor laughing on things like an actor's hair transplant or the cheek-fillers of an actress ; we must pause to think for a second - what's so funny??

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Brains In The Drains

A benevolent elderly lady who lives near my house casually told me a thing that left me pondering about attitudes that can eat up our nation like termites. She told me that her daughter, an MBBS, MD, got married into a wealthy business family. However, things were not rosy for long; only after a few months, she was forbidden from practicing by her parents-in-law, who felt that household and kids should be the utmost priority of her life. She tried a lot to convince them but finally, they put their foot down and now she is a full time housewife and a devoted mother to her two college going children. Her medical degree not only got wasted but this has far reaching effects as well. A medical seat that she had occupied got wasted since as a doctor she is not contributing anything to her country that is always short of trained doctors. Also, a lot of taxpayers’ money goes into making one specialist doctor and non-practicing people from medical profession only add to the liability of the nation.

In yet another case, a lady I know personally is a trained mathematics teacher but was forced to quit her job after she had had her first kid and since then is a full time housewife. Despite repeated requests from her and her parents, her in-laws are still adamant about the issue. Maths is not a subject that many kids enjoy and that can boast of a good teacher pool in the country. In such a case loss of a trained teacher that too one who decided to take up the profession out of her love for teaching the subject is a big loss indeed.

There is no dearth of such reports, facts and figures; we all know that millions of students, especially girls, occupy college seats but provide nothing in return. There are a few things that I really wish to shed some light on. 

Firstly, Higher education that churns out specialists like doctors, architects and engineers etc. costs any nation a lot and it is literally a crime to waste the national wealth like this. If someone aspires to be a skilled professional, she/he should always keep in mind that giving services back to the society is the most important thing, the aim of higher education. Also, I personally feel that education liberates you from the banal and monotonous drudgery of life and elevates living and mental standards.

One of the girls I know is an MBA but left her job as soon as she got married. The reason she gives is really annoying: her husband will take care of all the expenses and she need not work. Another girl I know is a PG but stays at home all day and spends her precious time in day dreaming or chatting. She has her own reasons; she says that since her father is rich enough, a job is not required. Job or business, whatever you take, adds to personal growth as well. An independent and empowered woman can maintain and protect her self-esteem and can ‘choose’ to even walk out of an abusive or broken marriage, hence saving her life for better.

We can further add to the list, the people who acquire higher education in some special professional field and then switch over to an entirely different one like administration, entertainment and showbiz, politics or business, which has little use of that professional skill and in which they could have done well even without snatching and wasting one seat from some other deserving and needy aspirant.

We cry ourselves hoarse on ‘brain drain’ but what about those millions of brains that are doing nothing for the nation and are wasting their precious skills in other mundane things.

Images taken from:

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Thanks Fi!

This is inspired by Princess Fiona's works. Thanks Fi for motivating me to try something really creative like this!

Space filled
Universe, I wonder
If I am , a part of the
Ever flowing river; sitting in
My own reverie, I ponder on stars and the
Bright moon. Why the stars twinkle? Is this their
    Joy or drops of tears, I wonder why moon is so shy why he wears robes 
white every night. I wonder life and death About 
friendship and love. Are my feelings as vast
And as deep as the skies? what am I? Just
Another entity or a world of my own?
Like a leaf in a huge tree
That is my entity
Tree is green
Happy and

Friday, February 10, 2012

Book Review-The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Title:         The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Author:      Mohsin Hamid
Pub:          Penguin
ISBN:        978-0-143-06424-4
MRP:         ` 250/-

To say that I simply liked my latest read, ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ would definitely be an understatement. I loved this book immensely and it has now become one of my favorites. Written in a monologue style by Pakistan Born and Harvard educated, Mohsin Hamid, the book makes us ponder on a very important aspect. This thin book (184 pages) is filled with a meaningful and stirring narration.

The story revolves around a young professional named ‘Changez’. He narrates his four year US stay to an American in a local eatery in Lahore. The narration technique is ‘Monologue’, that is only one side describes every detail including the reactions of the other characters as well. The magic of the plot lies in its ending where a powerful secret is revealed in a very subtle way.

Here is the story in brief: Changez arrives to study in Princeton University from Lahore at the age of 18. After his studies are over, he joins a top valuation company. On a camping trip to Greece, he gets smitten by Erica, who suffers from chronic depression. After the twin tower tragedy, Changez gets disturbed by the behavior of Americans towards Muslims and decides to return to his hometown, Lahore. He takes up the job of a university professor. The best thing is the ending that is not only shocking but is in fact a sad reality.
The book seeks to convey that violence is tragic not only for the victim but for the perpetrator as well. How violence can devastate the lives of common people on both the sides and converts them into hardcore ‘fundamentalists’, though ‘reluctantly’ has been described wonderfully by Mr. Hamid.

This book was short-listed for Man Booker Prize 2007.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

कोई चला तो था इन राहों में......

कोई चला तो था साथ तेरे कुछ दूर तलक
पूछा करती है अक्सर ये सुनसान सड़क 
कौन से दयार पर हयात ले आई आज 
रही न वो बेखुदी जिसपे करते थे नाज़ 

न वो दस्त-ए-यार रहे न कोई हमसफ़र
बीते तमाम खुशनुमा पहर; ढल गयी मुबारक सहर
हमदम फ़क़त खामोश राहेंये मैला असमान 
सरमाया फ़क़त तीरगी में लिपटा एक खाली सा मकान 

ये  किसके घर में आ रुका मेरा कारवां 
हँसते हैं साए अजनबी से, आईनों में जहाँ 
सराब निकली वो राह-ए-ख्वाब-ए-हयात 
चले थे जिस पे कभी हम साथ साथ 

पता न था करेंगे इस कदर शिकवा तेरा 
होगा तेरी ही तन्हाई से फिर निकाह मेरा 
ये स्याह ख़ार-ए-दर्दये कहर तेरा 
है वफ़ा-ए-पाक का इनाममेहर मेरा 

चलता रहे तुम्हारा  सिलसिला-ए-तिजारत यूँ ही
मांगी फिर एक दुआ तेरे लिए  ही 
के हो न जाए कभी शर्मसार मेरा यार-ए-दरिं 
खुदा ना ही करवाए तुझे अब दीदार मेरा 

चूर चूर बिखरा वो आईना 'हमारा'
रहा अक्स को भी नागवार साथ तेरा-मेरा
रिहा कर दिए आज खुद से तेरे आखिरी निशां
के उढ़ा आये सबाह में ख़ाक -ए-आशियाँ 

  • हयात=ज़िन्दगी/Life 
  • दस्त-ए-यार=यार के हाथ/Hands of the beloved
  • फ़क़त =सिर्फ/Only
  • सरमाया=खज़ाना/Treasure 
  • सराब=मृगतृष्णा/Mirage
  • स्याह=काला रंग/Color Black 
  • ख़ार=काँटा/Thorn
  • सिलसिला-ए-तिजारत= व्यापार/A tendency to deceive (acc. to context) 
  • यार-ए-दरिं=पुराना दोस्त/ Old friend
  • सबा=हवा/Breeze

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thus Spake 'He'

Vanity dripping and spine erect
Head high, I gape at my body perfect

Oh! I love my silken skin, such golden glow
My sea blue eyes and feline walk slow

Praise showered galore wherever I go
Each minute filled with a cheer anew!

Thus, I beg almighty to freeze the time
Can’t just let go youth golden of mine

May this shine of gifted allure never fade
Amen. I hope my pleadings reach His space

One nice day, when sun heads earth’s rim
When after the usual pleading, I saw ‘him’

He sat quietly on a wooden porch
Near the place where I beg to my god

His hair rugged and looks so rustic
Surely, those eyes did master some magic

On a mere leaf he eats and prays all day
His words too, cast a spell they say

Near he came and opened his pursed lips
I melted and got confined to his jinx

He said, “Lovely body is but a delusion
Soul is truth we are to fathom

From the time of arrival until we depart
This molded dust forms just a part
We all become one in the end
For death unites us once again

Burned to ashes by our own friends
For none escorts after a life ends

Change is truth; the essence of life
Embrace lovingly, for it only survives

Do chart your path but rise above the jumble
Barter desires for the joy of surrender”

All this was very true and right
And I did come from darkness to light

However, I never saw him after that day
Was he God himself in a body of clay?

(Images from Internet)