02 December 2009

real life

i read the following paras exactly when i felt the same way. that is always so relieving, so comforting, so inspiring- that i am not the only one who feels a particular way, and that someone else has penned it down so poetically. thank you ck.

"My friends and i had reached the age when we had the great, good fortune to be living out some of the dreams we'd had when we were young. Now, we were discovering the truly hard part: the realities.

Having a new baby made you psychotic with exhaustion and self-doubt. Professional success could make you delirious with insomnia and anxiety. Living abroad rendered you lonely and infantilized. And no matter what road you took, you still had to brush your teeth every morning, pay your bills, do your damn laundry, worry about taxes, check your breasts for cancer, argue with your loved ones about whether to defrost the refridgerator. Nobody, after all, it seemed, was exempt from banality...

Moments of pure bliss were often accidental. Getting something you'd consciously worked toward, on the other hand, was often far more emotionally complicated."

This is from Susan Gilman's 'hypocrite in a pouffy white dress'. it's a book i would never have picked up on my own, and i probably won't read it from cover to cover, but it has enough truth and sass in it to make me mark pages and laugh at humanity!

29 November 2009

young at heart?

as i turn another year older chronologically, i feel even younger and more gauche than ever before. while fasting on yaum-e-arafa a couple of days ago, i remember wanting to stomp off to b and mournfully ask why i had decided to fast. i refrained from doing so because it was too 'childish'. and yet, i feel this way all the time. with all the time i am spending amidst children these days, i increasing feel that my own inner child has not grown up. when the kids are squabbling over who gets the last piece of chocolate, i want to yell 'me!' just as loudly as them. i want to curl up and fall asleep in an adult's lap too.

in the past few years, several persons have randomly remarked that they were under the impression that h was the older sibling. he of course, responds that it is but a natural impression, since i am so much more 'immature' than him. and you know, in many ways, i am. i would rather not use the term 'immature' however.. ingenuous, guileless, enthusiastic, perhaps?!

the bottom line is that ever since returning from cairo, i have never actually felt my age. instead, i feel like i am constantly running to catch up.. i have friends who are much older than me, and i also have friends much younger. i treat them all the same. so what difference does a number make really?

india diary: a filmy life

the following three incidents i witnessed struck me as scenes from hindi cinema:

- my phone is not working at present, and when my brother went to inquire, he was told that one of the reasons (amongs other possibilities) is that the service provider were operating several illegal mobile towers, which have now been closed by the government.

- after a long time servant was let go by one family, she started spreading false stories about her 'bad experience' with them, and prevented others from working with them by threatening to use black magic on them. in return, the family fired her son from their business. the next day, his wife showed up at their house to work in the place of her mother in law!

- a family member undertook the services of a 'fabricator' (someone to put up roofing sheets over the yard and other such tasks), who took the advanced money and never showed up to do the work. his phone was always switched off, or he had a multitude of reasons for not doing the work. after someone was sent to his house as a 'threat', he showed up and asked for more money, in order to buy the materials to do the work. while he was being refused anymore money, someone came to take away his motorbike as a further threat!

28 November 2009

a few of my favourite things

having been away from hk for a month, this is what i miss the most, what i would want to gather up if i could fly home for the weekend!

soya milk
green tea
friends and acquaintances from different cultures and backgrounds, with different takes and habits (i think this is something that i really miss. all my life, i have been surrounded by people from everywhere, who speak varied languages, have unique customs and yet share something in common with me, be it school, work, religion or ethnic origins.. here i feel a little claustrophobic by the constant immersion in indian bohraville..)
all kinds of non indian food! in particular, noodles (pasta, udon, egg noodles), vegetarian dim sum, tofu, mushrooms, broccoli.. (ok, it's too painful to continue!)
chinese and english tv
the mtr!

18 November 2009

week two

i am a little homesick. i miss my friends and colleagues. i miss myself. i clearly recall having lunch at p & i's some time ago, and how happy i was, how comfortable in my own skin. here, i see someone who cannot cook, who isn't great with kids, who stumbles her way through social situations, whose accent and mastery of ld leave much to be desired, who has little to say.

13 November 2009

india diary: week one

my first week in the country was mainly spent in ajmer, rajasthan. it was my first field visit in india, and it was very educational. we visited different villages and communities, interviewed government employees and activists, and attended a couple of meetings.

the content of the meetings and interviews was nothing new; it was my discussions with people i found insightful and inspirational.

what baffled me: the place we were staying at in ajmer had a patrol guard who would circle the building and randomly (inevitably outside my window) bang his stick and let out a siren like whistle that nearly gave me a heart attack the first time i heard it.

also, i saw many women sweeping sand strewn streets, which simply made the sand and dust rise up in clouds around them; there was no cleaning value to the act, as far as i could see.

30 October 2009

diplomacy vs advocacy

Beware of ASEAN rights diplomacy
Awzar Thi (http://www.upiasia.com/Human_Rights/)

Last Friday, 10 civil society representatives learned the hard way what a new Asian regional human rights initiative is really all about.

The 10 had expected to meet leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, one representing each country in the grouping, for a chat prior to the launch of the Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.

But the night before, officials from the Foreign Ministry of Thailand – where the event was being held – said that only five would be allowed through the door. When the five arrived at the venue, officials told them that they could not open their mouths.

Welcome to human rights dialogue, ASEAN style.

In a statement, the spurned activists said that the move was “a rejection of both civil society and the democratic process” that “sabotages the credibility” of the new commission. Media reports cited other groups as “bashing” and “deriding” the body.

All this seems to be much ado about nothing.

It was obvious from the start that the purpose of the new ASEAN body is not to protect human rights. Its purpose is the exact opposite.

ASEAN has created the Intergovernmental Commission so that member governments and their own ineffectual rights institutions can push complaints of abuses outside their borders. There they can be professionally watered down and run through various “channels” and “mechanisms” until the original point is forgotten and frustrated complainants give up.

Although the commission is not intended to promote rights, it is aiming to promote members’ campaigns for seats on prestigious international bodies, like the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Thailand has already announced that it will bid for the peak U.N. rights body next year. Its current ambassador to the council was government spokesman when former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s administration was enabling the murder of thousands of alleged drug dealers in 2003.

In his new improved role as ASEAN human rights defender, the ambassador has been working on the intergovernmental body, perhaps with the expectancy of a better seat at the big hall in Geneva.

That these governments are working hard on their human rights diplomacy for reasons other than human rights is unsurprising. That civil society groups have been suckered into the diplomacy agenda is unfortunate.

Not only has it proven to be a complete waste of time and money, but also it is damaging to the defense of human rights in Asia.

Human rights diplomacy causes groups to lose touch with the real work of human rights advocacy. Diplomacy obliges negotiation and compromise. It is the stuff of closed doors and secret handshakes. By contrast, advocacy means standing firm on principles. It is necessarily public and open.

Rights diplomats fear to speak out because they might step on officials’ toes or risk their status with fellow diplomats. They sacrifice their ability to communicate on critically important issues on the streets in order to keep their cherished places at the table.

This is why, for instance, some groups have failed to speak out against the use of the lèse majesté law to silence and imprison people in Thailand, when in principle they ought to have not even hesitated.

Rights diplomats may flatter themselves into thinking that they can make progress through quiet negotiating, as if they were concluding a trade agreement or making an arms deal, but the fact is that this method is inimical to the real work of defending human rights.

This is because the single most important purpose of human rights advocacy is to break open silences and challenge taboos that allow abuses to continue. The work of human rights is to end the censorship of debate on problems that cause violations to persist.

Censorship can only be broken through advocacy. Human rights diplomacy, by contrast, not only reinforces censorship but also forces its participants to engage in self-censorship.

Persons who engage in self-censorship on the pretence of dialogue should expect little sympathy later when they find that they have been made victims of their own attempts at diplomacy, and then cry out that they have been unfairly treated.

But hopefully they will have learned an important lesson, that human rights diplomacy and human rights advocacy are incompatible. Anyone opting to engage in the former can only do so at the cost of giving up on the latter. And to give up on the latter ultimately means to give up on human rights.

29 October 2009

fruitful travelling

my recent trip to south korea was wonderful. i spent most of my time basking in the southern countryside, which is gorgeous and idyllic, lush with rice paddies and mountains, temples and traditional houses. it was one of my most outdoorsy vacations, and i loved it. the best part was not only hanging out with ksa, but also experiencing her country and culture with her. it was a very fruitful trip -we visited many places (too many perhaps, for such a short time!), ate lots of yummy (and homemade) korean food, did a lot of shopping, received a lot of gifts and laughed a lot. i wish all my trips were as fortunate and hassle free! in particular, i wish my next trip to be so..

i have few expectations however. in fact, the expectations are all in the negative. sigh. my biggest concerns include having little control over my own life, of having no friends around, and instead being surrounded by people who think i am from a distant planet, of being unproductive and stagnation. not to mention the corruption, chaos and lack of punctuality. i tell myself all kinds of cheery nonsense and chant numerous mantras, but really, when it comes right down to it, i would give anything to not go. it's too late for that, i know. so i must simply 'prepare a face to meet the faces that i will meet', and 'dare to disturb the universe'. (and look forward to discussing pigs and music with c). the memories and photos of korea will have to keep me going for a while..

12 October 2009

anticipation coming to an end

three events that i have been thinking about and planning for what seems to be eons, are now around the corner. and i am in a bit of shock. i have spent so long thinking of them, it seems surreal that there is nothing left to think; just to do! it must also be admitted -thinking and planning gave me something to do, other than ponder on what the events mean, how they will change my life (in different degrees).

for at least the past five months, these events have defined my being. plans have been made in relation to when event 1 is over, or when i return from event 2. when all three are over, i will have a new slate, with no plans (at least none yet anyway!). while exciting, it is also a little alarming. there is a sense of emptiness; of things moving too fast, out of my control; of letting go (which i have never been particularly good at).

i am not ready to think much beyond the three events however. i will try to simply immerse myself in them, and hope that the anticipating did nothing to their charm. later, i may take stock..

03 October 2009

superficial interaction

i've been happily cruising along on facebook for sometime now, when it was brought home to me that the interactions there, however well intentioned, are really quite superficial. i was initially very excited by fb, because i found so many of my university friends there, most of whom i'd lost touch with through email. yes, it was--is--wonderful to see their virtual footsteps, see pictures of them and their new families, read their status updates. the problem arises i guess, when you expect all this to mean something, to fill the void left by the absence of these people. in fact, it just makes the void that much more noticeable. i find it so frustrating that all my friends are scattered around the world, that it is so hard for me to make new friends here, that these new friendships never seem to match the quality of those in the past.

and yet, were those friendships really that great, or do they just seem so now?

22 September 2009

random thoughts

i've wanted to write for the past week, but wasn't able to get my thoughts into any coherent form. as the writing bug hit again today, i decided to simply type up all my fragmented thoughts, regardless of how much (non)sense they make.

eid was good, but i am still sad that ramadan is over. so far, i have only managed to incorporate one miniscule part of my ramadan routine to daily life.. as the post-ramadan hours go by, i feel i am losing more and more of the good (habits, deeds, intentions) i painstakingly collected in that awesome month.

i miss poetry in my life. i should find a good collection to read (any recommendations?). i could even start writing some myself again.. i enjoy reading some people's tweets precisely because they read like poetry/haiku!

i found this sentence from awhile ago, and i liked its expression:
"i am happy with my life except for the guy situation, but that hole is too big for me to paper over with movies and stuff"
the person it was written to made no reply however, which is a bummer..

self censorship and blogging is an interesting issue, and one that moh's post brought back. i clearly remember how disturbed i was when my rida post was on the front page of planet bohra, resulting in removing my blog from there. the above para is something else i wouldn't want on pb.. it's like there is a particular group of people whom i do not want to read my blog, but they may already be reading it and i wouldn't know.. (as long as they don't tell me i guess it doesn't matter!)

there's a petition to repeal sri lanka's draconian terrorism law; please sign and circulate.

15 September 2009

just a few days left

there is less than a week left of ramadan, and i find myself a little sad. i have grown used to the routine of sihori, fajr namaz, being at work with an empty stomach (not hungry, just empty) and finally rushing off for magrib and iftar. amidst all the quran reciting, tasbeehs and extra namaz, i have been afloat on good wishes and positive vibes. i don't want to set my feet down so soon..

check out palace prayers (a unique take on art in ramadan) to buoy you up as well..

25 August 2009

rumi's ramadan

by Rumi

There’s hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less. If the soundbox
is stuffed full of anything, no music.
If the brain and belly are burning clean
with fasting, every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
The fog clears, and new energy makes you
run up the steps in front of you.
Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.
When you’re full of food and drink, Satan sits
where your spirit should, an ugly metal statue
in place of the Kaaba. When you fast,
good habits gather like friends who want to help.
Fasting is Solomon’s ring. Don’t give it
to some illusion and lose your power,
but even if you have, if you’ve lost all will and control,
they come back when you fast, like soldiers appearing
out of the ground, pennants flying above them.
A table descends to your tents,
Jesus’ table.
Expect to see it, when you fast, this table
spread with other food, better than the broth of cabbages.

nice imagery- i like thinking of us as lutes. i also like Poetry Chaikhana's description of how food affects our thoughts, emotions and consciousness, and how he links that to the poem.



O moon-faced Beloved,
the month of Ramadan has arrived
Cover the table
and open the path of praise.

O fickle busybody.
it’s time to change your ways.
Can you see the one who’s selling the halvah
how long will it be the halvah you desire?

Just a glimpse of the halvah-maker
has made you so sweet even honey says,
“I’ll out myself beneath your feet, like soil;
I’ll worship at your shrine.”

your chick frets within the egg
with all your eating and choking
Break out of your shell that your wings may grow.
Let yourself fly.

The lips of the Master are parched
from calling the Beloved.
The sound of your call resounds
through the horn of your empty belly.

Let nothing be inside of you.
Be empty: give your lips to the lips of the reed.
When like a reed you fill with His breath,
then you’ll taste sweetness.

Sweetness is hidden in the Breath
that fills the reed.
Be like Mary – By that sweet breath
a child grew within her.

on that note, ramadan karim!

19 August 2009

maeve binchy

i'm nearly done with maeve binchy's latest novel, 'heart and soul'. for some strange reason i thought it would get me through ramadan (whether fiction should be a part of ramadan or not is a matter not to be addressed at present), but really, it is a one-sitting read. a very enjoyable sitting, i should add.

it has been some time since i read binchy's work. the first chapter of 'heart and soul' took me back to my first binchy book (read while in school), 'the lilac bus'. that was an awesome read, with each chapter covering a passenger on the bus. not only do i like this way of exploring the characters, but i love the sense of community her novels portray. it is a sense that i cannot say i have ever truly experienced. her work is also satisfyingly black or white; even gray areas in her worlds merge into one or the other.

there are not many authors i read as a secondary school student whom i am still reading now. the lack of intellectual matter in binchy perhaps adds to my pleasure in reading her novels. her stories are heart warming, and i can enjoy them without intellectual distractions.

i will be sad to finish 'heart and soul'. the characters will live with me for some time after the last page has been turned, and i will perhaps make up new scenarios for them. what else could i ask from a novel?

09 August 2009

narrow world

i am tired of trying so hard. surely these things should just come naturally? if i look at the close friends in my life at present, with none of them did i try to be friends. and those few people who i did try with, we never truly gelled. surely this principle must apply to other relationships as well?

and yet, the fear (and expectation) is always there: if i don't try, how will i get to where i want?

i want to be wanted. to be enough.

i want my world to expand. to include new people, new perspectives, new roles.

if only my wanting made it so.

i am done trying however.

07 August 2009

mohammed hanif on pakistan

i just finished reading mohammed hanif's 'a case of exploding mangoes'. i like his writing style, although i found the content too military focused for my liking. this morning, i came across a wonderful piece he wrote on his return to pakistan from london. it's long, but so engaging that you don't notice. i wouldn't be able to summarize it in a way that does it justice, but here is my favorite para (which should be read in context):
Walking along the Karachi seafront after returning from London, I worked myself into a self-righteous rage at these young women in black burkas hanging out at the beach when they should have been at school or in some mosque praying for our collective salvation. But then I looked closely and found out that many of them were on a date. Some were actually making out, in broad daylight, with men with beards. Covered from head to toe in a black robe, this is quite a spectacle – and provides just the right combination of challenge and opportunity. Walking on the beach with my wife the other day, we stared at a couple who were exploring the full possibilities of the burka, using their motorcycle to lean against. With the Arabian sea lapping at their feet.

22 July 2009

my life according to tracy chapman

ok, this has been making the rounds on facebook, and i finally gave in. (yes, i do have work to do --too much in fact, hence the procrastination!) it was actually fun, and gave me an excuse to go over some of my favorite music :P

Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to 15 people you like and include me. You can't use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It's a lot harder than you think! Repost as "my life according to (band name)."

Pick your Artist:
tracy chapman

Are you a male or female:
she's got her ticket

Describe yourself:
tell it like it is

How do you feel:
talkin' about a revolution

Describe where you currently live:

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:
across the lines

Your favorite form of transportation:
fast car

Your best friend is:
paper and ink

You and your best friends are:

What's the weather like?
another sun

Favorite time of day:
in the dark

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called:
born to fight

What is life to you:
something to see

Your relationship:
a theory

Your fear:
unsung psalm

What is the best advice you have to give:
be and be not afraid

Thought for the Day:
if not now..

How I would like to die:
the first person on earth

My soul's present condition:
new beginning

My motto:
don't dwell

20 July 2009

happy day

there was this one awesome day last week, when everything went well, ilhumdolillah! it started out with a short but animated chat with z, whom i hadn't chatted with in forever. the rest of the day flew by in useful discussions and brainstorming sessions for ongoing/future projects on torture, corruption and other fascinating stuff. even lunch that day was particularly enjoyable -homemade chow mien! to end the day, i went to a mitishitabi (girls' party), where both the food and conversation were fun.

so, recap: intellectual stimulation, hanging out (both virtual and physical) with friends and good food made a wonderful day!

i would wish that all my days were that great, but that would be asking for the impossible. there are usually moments of happiness in each day, but to have an entire day of happiness was bliss :)

29 June 2009

occupational hazard

the following are reactions that i encountered to human rights work on my recent trip to india (ok, the trip was three weeks ago; it's taken me this long to calm down and write about it):

-what do you do? human rights? why?
-you know, this human rights stuff is all spouted by rich countries, by america. they're just trying to interfere again.
-did you hear about that lady? she was opposing project x, causing a lot of problems for the state government, and in the end they found she was paid by some western groups to make a lot of noise.
-these so called human rights groups, all they do is oppose development projects.
-is your organization doing anything about all the human rights abuses committed by america? by other western countries? are you complaining to the australian government about the indian students who were recently killed? why are you focusing on india, on asia?
-after reading this report on burma's poor response to cyclone nargis, you're going to write an article? for who? will the burmese government care?
-look at the issue of nuclear weapons. why shouldn't india have nuclear power if everyone else does? america talks about non-proliferation, but refuses to destroy its own nuclear arsenal. what about our rights?

when i told some sri lankan friends about how frustrating an experience i had, they commiserated by sharing their own similar experiences. friends from korea, australia and elsewhere had other anecdotes to share, all of which underlined how dirty and unpopular a phrase 'human rights work' is.

they also show how little understanding there is of human rights, of the actual principles -the rights to life, to food, to shelter, to expression and opinion, to be free from arbitrary arrest, detention or punishment.

suddenly, i realize that my work involves not only fighting against the systemic abuse of human rights, but also the cultural attitudes and misconceptions surrounding those rights. (okay, not suddenly.. but i have to say that my india encounters were a bit of a slap in the face.)

in india, i also came across the opinion that corruption is normal; there is no harm in paying bribes to get your work done; it is what makes the world go round. under that mentality, rights can simply be bought, so what they are exactly and where they stem from is totally irrelevant.

on a lighter note: "A friend felt oppressed in the US. He returned to Delhi so he can ignore laws, be loud, yell at people, & smoke anywhere. Now, he is happy."

24 June 2009

june 26, international day against torture

"...The practice of torture remains the central defect in protecting, promoting and fulfilling human rights in the region. From the standpoint of state responsibility to protect, promote and fulfil human rights, the fight against torture is an important component of human rights work. In essence, human rights work is engaging in a dialogue with the state, reminding the state of its responsibility to serve the people and identifying its failures in meeting people's demands.

In most of Asia, states notoriously attempt to reduce the space for this dialogue by instilling fear, largely through law enforcement agencies. By using law enforcement agencies as a tool in this way, the state engages in a counter dialogue with citizens, reminding them it has the means to silence dissent and enforce its writ...

Working against torture is thus crucial to enlarging the space for democratic dialogue. Human rights work in the region and globally has yet to appreciate this fact..."


living in the now

this week's scmp sunday magazine has an interview with eckhart tolle, who said a few things that got me thinking. he said the present moment is usually seen as an obstacle to overcome, which is a crazy way to live since now is the only real moment you have. how true. and sad. (note to self: enjoy all moments hereupon!)

he also said that while everyone's life situation had pressures and conflicts, you must ask yourself whether at this very moment you have a problem. the answer for me--at this moment--would be no. but i feel a sense of denial or escapism here.. just recently, i was asked a question to which i replied, "i simply do not want to think about it right now." this prompted the response that i would have to address the issue at some point; the more i ran away from it, the more it would run after me. which is also true. so then, how is a balance found between the two?!

18 June 2009

people i meet

several of the blogs that i usually read have been on a hiatus for some time now. as i was mourning my daily post intake, i came across the 'people i meet' blog, which is awesome, and very inspiring.

what a great idea, to write about people you meet: whoever said 'the world is your classroom and the people your teachers,' had it right. even if we get so caught up in ourselves that we sometimes forget this.

in the past two days, i have tried to be more open, and pay more attention to, the people i interact with. needless to say, even though it takes up more time, it is definitely rewarding and educational. i'm sure i will get tired at some point, and revert to old habits however :p

thank you for the author of 'people i meet'!

17 June 2009

professors concerned about democracy in south korea

it is strange how the local and regional media are so silent about the present situation in south korea... the statement below about the country's receding democracy is signed by 240 professors from various north american academic institutions. you can see the full list of signatures here.

"The following represents the considered view of professors at colleges and universities throughout North America, whose thoughts are with Korea and Korea’s democracy. In light of recent developments in South Korea, we, the undersigned, cannot but express grave concern. Nurtured by the toils and sacrifice of many, democracy is a proud asset of the Korean people. The world has watched as the Korean people have moved deliberately, with determination and at human cost, from dictatorship towards democracy, over the last half a century. Regrettably, since the inauguration of the President Lee Myung-bak administration, Korean democracy has lost its way.

A democracy must not only allow the people to select their own representatives through votes, but also guarantee the freedoms of assembly and association in order that they can express diverse political opinions. We have observed how the state suppressed last year’s ‘candlelight vigils’, issued subpoenas even to ordinary citizens who had participated in the protests, and is restricting the lively online exchange of ideas. The recent police blockade of Seoul Square is an egregious example of the government denying its people a fundamental democratic right, the freedom to assemble.

A democracy acquires a capacity for self-regulation through the free press. We note with distress that the Public Prosecutor’s Office has questioned journalists critical of the government, and the replacement of major broadcasting networks’ executives with pro-government figures has infringed upon the professional autonomy of rank-and-file reporters. A foundation stone of any democracy, the free and independent press has suffered serious damage.

The Constitution of the Republic of Korea enshrines a system of checks-and-balances among the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches of the government. We regretfully recognize and call attention to the fact that since its inauguration, the government has not upheld the principle of checks-and-balances. Moreover, administrative organs that should be politically neutral, such as the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the police, and the National Tax Service, have exercised excessive state power in an arbitrary manner, weakening the legitimacy of democratic governance.

Speaking for North American professors interested in the health and strength of democracy in Korea, we express deep concern over the regression of democracy in Korea. Heart-wrenching incidents such as the death of forced evictees during the police suppression of their protest, the suicide of special contract workers, and the shocking decision by the former president to end his own life are some of the tragic consequences of a democracy that is taking backward steps in Korea; they highlight a democracy in crisis.

A democratically elected government cannot disparage its own people, because the mandate to govern derives from the people. We, the undersigned, urge the government of President Lee Myung-bak to recognize its responsibility for a regressing democracy and reorient itself as a government that respects the people’s sovereignty and democratic rights. Democracy, the pride of Korea, must again find its direction and return to the natural path of serving the people."

15 June 2009

azar nafisi on tehran elections

al jazeera has a nice interview with azar nafisi, author of 'reading lolita in tehran: a memoir in books'. i enjoyed that book very much, and am looking forward to checking out her new 'things i've been silent about'.

the interview is short but sweet, with several insightful comments by nafisi. her main point was that looking at the platform of the candidates--rather than the number of votes (particularly when chances are the votes were rigged)--tells you a lot about society and politics.
...just as important is the fact that many within the ruling elite in Iran are realizing they cannot rule the society the way they claimed they could. A good example is Mr. Mousavi himself.

In order to win Mousavi had taken up the progressive slogans, which he had previously fought against. I was there at the beginning of the Islamic Revolution when he was the Prime Minister, and implemented many of the repressive measures which he now denounces.

I (like many others) was thrown out of the university that Mousavi helped to shut down as part of the Cultural Revolution.

The fact that Mr. Mousavi or Karoobi choose to talk of freedom and human rights show the degree to which the divisions within the regime are affected by the resistance of the Iranian people. I think these are the important points about the elections and not only who won or who lost...

He didn't just campaign against Ahmadinejad but against the very foundations of the Islamic Republic. The fact that Mr Mousavi risked his political career to take up this position suggests that a sizable number of the population don't want what exists now.

you can read the full interview here. there's also a very nice photograph of nafisi!

14 June 2009

a cup of light

nicole mones' novel, a cup of light, is what i randomly picked up in the second hand bookstore to take with me on my recent trip to india. i figured it would be easy, light reading, ideal for the circumstances and my then state of mind. it was all that, and more; by speaking to me, it made escape a little difficult.

"He remembered the feeling of being sliced, of an ice pick through the center of him... Even now he still felt the sharp blade of hurt here in this bar, the piano marching around him... Evaporate, he told his memory. Go away. It crinkled to nothing. It would be back, he knew, but not tonight."

"She had done her best and she had to let go of everything else. Let it be, she thought. Stand behind it as it is. And strangely enough, as her hopes and expectations of the ideal fell away from her, fear and all its grating tethers vanished too."

"Dream memory was different; she knew this much. It couldn't be commanded and controlled. It rose on its own, when ready. It was stored and triggered in the body, in the mystery of bones and muscles, not in the mental world where she felt most at home. It was not thought that recovered a dream. It was the shift of a leg, the slight turn of the torso."

19 May 2009


i cannot believe it is nearly mid 2009. the first half of the year has been even more of a roller coaster than usual. it began in the middle of ashera madness in mombasa, followed by my fall off the bike and being out of action for a good 10 weeks (not to mention being in more pain than i thought possible), and then my brother and his family packing up their house and moving to india. on the sidelines of this is the juggling of work, physiotherapy, markaz, family and friends. phew. basically, it's been more than enough drama and upheaval to last me for the rest of this year and next. i want the coming six months to be absolutely quiet and peaceful- hmm, i wonder what the chances of that are?

there is so much i want time to process, time to just breathe and be. ironically, i also want more time to do so many things!! where is the pause button??

24 April 2009

we are ALL human rights defenders

although i knew there was a UN declaration on human rights defenders, it was not until i had to write about it that i learned its full name: the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

(yes, the full name is a mouthful, which is probably why it is popularly known as the declaration on human rights defenders.)

the declaration is thus addressed to everyone, not just states and human rights defenders. this is made clearer in its annex:
Stressing that all members of the international community shall fulfil, jointly and separately, their solemn obligation to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction of any kind…

Acknowledging the important role of international cooperation for, and the valuable work of individuals, groups and associations in contributing to, the effective elimination of all violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of peoples and individuals…

in other words, it is everyone's responsibility to promote and protect human rights, and anyone who does so, is a human rights defender. for this reason, the declaration does not adopt any formal definition of 'human rights defender'.

not only was i happier to be sharing this responsibility, but i was also taken aback by the difference made by a name.

19 April 2009

me and bridget jones

about a week ago, i attended a party where i knew nearly everyone, but was good friends with only two persons. it was an interesting event, for various reasons that i won't go into right now. my comfort level varied over the five and a half hours i was there, which in turn determined how good a time i was having. the last hour was perhaps the lowest point, which of course shadowed the entire event to the extent that even though it was way past my bedtime, instead of collapsing into bed as soon as i got to my room, i wasted time in futile over-analysis.

the next day (or perhaps two days later) i watched bridget jones after a VERY long time (it was one of my favorite movies to watch in cairo. this probably had a lot to do with the fact that it was one of the four english movies i owned at that time). anyways, at one point during the movie, i suddenly felt that my behaviour at the party slightly resembled bridget's verbal ineptitude, and i was mortified. then came the scene of bj's birthday dinner with her friends, where everyone was having a good time despite the awful food. again, i felt an affinity with her; i am happy with my small group of friends, where no matter what, i don't feel like an idiot.

more than anything else, i think it bothers me that apart from those two good friends, no one else at the party knows me as a funny, slightly eccentric, intelligent person. i never manage to come across that way with people who are not my friends. argh.

life: of love and shadows

that literature mirrors life was brought home to me most poignantly while reading isabel allende's of love and shadows. it is one of her older novels (not sure why i didn't read it earlier) and as such, slightly different in tone and content from portrait in sepia or daughter of fortune. it is still characteristic allende though.

behind the title is a love story set in a military dictatorship. allende portrayed the daily repression, fear, silence and disappearances her characters must live some 25 years ago; i live with them today. while reading the novel, i felt as though she was describing the histories (and the present) of burma or sri lanka or bangladesh. i am just now editing a paper titled 'militarization and human rights in south asia'.

more than in particular quotes, the theme of repression, absurdity and quiet rebellion runs through the novel like a thread holding it all together. regardless, i still want to have some quotes down, so here goes:

"'From this moment you are to wear your hair long, Francisco. We must resist in every possible way,' mouthed his irate father, forgetting his own objection to shaggy-haired men."

"Until the day she visited the Morgue, Irene Baltran had lived in angelic ignorance, not from apathy or stupidity but because ignorance was the norm in her situation. Like... so many of her social class, she escaped into the orderly, peaceful world of the fashionable neighborhoods, the exclusive beach clubs... Irene had been educated to deny any unpleasantness, discounting it as a distortion of the facts."

"Years of authoritarian regime had established discretion as the basis for survival."

"Since it was impossible to eliminate poverty, it had been forbidden to mention it. The news in the press was soothing; they were living in a fairyland. Rumours of hungry women and children storming bakeries were completely false... Anyone who was discontented was considered anti-patriotic; happiness was obligatory. Through an unwritten but universally known law of segregation, two countries were functioning within the same national boundaries"

"It's all the same. Lieutenant Ramirez killer her, and he's the law. What can I do?"

"'Justice' was an almost forgotten term, no longer mentioned because, like the word 'liberty', it had subversive overtones."

"united in their compassionate desire to bring human solidarity where divine love seemed to be lacking."

03 April 2009

teenage rape victim in pakistan humiliated by judge

Court spectators and prosecutors expressed outrage at the behaviour of Additional District and Sessions Judge Nizar Ali Khawaja on 25 March 2009 in Karachi, when he allowed the case of a teenage gang rape victim, Ms Kainat Soomro, to become a spectacle in his courtroom.

While the 15-year-old victim was expecting an in-camera trial in the judge's private chambers, she was instead asked by the judge to describe and even demonstrate her rape, in detail, in front of her alleged attackers. Furthermore, at least 80 spectators were also present in the court room. Although the public prosecutor requested that anyone unrelated to the case be told to leave, the judge sided with the defense counsel, who argued that there were no legal obligations to bar citizens from an open court.

According to journalists and the prosecution, the defense counsel and the judge asked a string of invasive questions regarding the rape, which the teenager, who has had a sheltered, conservative upbringing, struggled with. She was asked when certain items of clothing were removed, exactly what actions were done to her, and when. In a few instances Kainat replied that she couldn't remember and felt out of her senses, having fainted; the judge then harshly berated her. Witnesses noted that he appeared to enjoy the invasive nature of the questions and Kainat’s humiliation.

what a pathetic excuse of a human being, not to mention judge. you can read more here and here.

02 April 2009

muslim journeys towards love

i stumbled upon these two books today, which piqued my attention: catch a fish from the sea (using the internet) by nasreen akhtar, and love in a headscarf by shelina janmohammed. written by british muslim women, both books are about finding a partner outside the traditional set ups. they seem funny and refreshing.

if anyone has read them, do let me know your thoughts.. i'm going to have to get them off amazon, as neither the public libraries nor hku have them, and i assume most bookstores here won't stock them either..

01 April 2009

Writer's 'racist slur' offends Filipinos

By Danilo Reyes
Column: Point of Action, UPI Asia Online
HONG KONG, China, March 31, 2009

A journalist in Hong Kong who described the Philippines as a "nation of servants" in his column may have written his article as a satire, and perhaps his insults were “not intentional,” but the Filipinos’ reaction demonstrates they could not take it lightly. Such comments are deeply hurtful, satirical or otherwise.

The article entitled "The War At Home," written by Chip Tsao, was published in HK Magazine on March 27, but the publishing company, the Asia City Publishing Group, had to pull it from their website three days later. Massive condemnation of the article in both Hong Kong and the Philippines forced the company to make an apology on Monday.

Before Chip Tsao’s article came to light, another local newspaper, The Standard, had published a report on Feb. 25 claiming that Filipinos were carriers of an infectious disease, a “superbug,” quoting an expert from the Center for Health Protection. Considering this a serious issue, I personally wrote to the CHP asking for clarification, only to find out the report did not “express the views of the CHP.”

But unlike HK Magazine, The Standard did not apologize, nor did its editor, Ivan Tong, reply to my letter or email. The journalist who wrote the article, Patsy Moy, stands by her story despite the disclaimer in the CHP’s letter to me.

In searching for a remedy to the problem of articles that misrepresent the Filipino community, I was told that the newly passed Racial Discrimination Ordinance in Hong Kong, though it has provisions to protect ethnic minorities from discrimination, applies only in the workplace. There is no redress for an ethnic group that is offended by published articles or reports.

Thus Filipinos in Hong Kong, for lack of other options, must resort to issuing statements and press releases to protest against discrimination or offensive and false comments. The Filipinos’ reaction to Chip Tsao’s supposedly “satirical” column is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that Filipinos collectively protested against comments they thought offensive.

I recall a controversy over Hollywood actress Claire Danes, who was declared "persona non grata" in the Philippines and whose movies were banned in the country after she commented, following filming in the city, that Manila was infested with cockroaches and rats. She later apologized. There was another case of a Canadian mentor who was condemned over her offensive comments about a Filipino toddler for not being able to use spoon and fork at a primary school.

The Filipinos may be fragmented and divided in some ways – by social class, ethnic group, dialect and ideology – but if their identity as Filipinos is shaken, if they are humiliated or offended, they come together. Perhaps this is a byproduct of their historical colonial past and oppressive regimes.

Let's take Chip Tsao's column as an example. He may argue that his article was intended as a satire; however, he touches upon the very reasons Filipinos have to come to Hong Kong to work as domestic helpers. They come not by their own choice, but are forced to do so by the lack of opportunities at home. This is due to both the abject failure of the Philippines government to develop the country’s economy and to the policy of exporting labor set up during the Marcos regime in the 1970s.

Therefore, it is not the Filipinos' choice as citizens that pushes them to serve foreign households as "modern slaves." This is the product of a policy, crafted by a dictatorial and oppressive regime, that has lasted to this day. It impacts the whole range of Filipinos, which actually includes different ethnic minorities scattered in more than 7,000 islands in the archipelago.

Writings and literary articles that are satirical in nature are not a monopoly of any group of people. This approach is nothing new to Filipinos. In fact, satire was widely used in works by Filipino nationalists like Jose Rizal in his novels, and others who inspired the Philippine revolution against colonial Spain in the 1800s. Thus, to argue that the Filipinos, in reading Chip Tsao, could not “read between the lines” is not accurate.

Filipino domestic workers are often better English speakers and writers than their employers, as English has been their medium of instruction from grade school through college – once again a product of a colonial American past imposed in the 1900s that continues in the education system to this day. It is not accurate to say they cannot grasp subtle meanings.

But in Rizal’s writings, in his politically charged satirical novel "Noli Me Tangere," he used as his objects of ridicule the Spanish friars, the oppressors and plunderers – not those who were suffering due to oppression, the Filipinos. This is what makes Chip Tsao’s approach condemnable. His objects of satire were the domestic workers who are already suffering, forced to separate from their families and to serve foreign households.

The problem with some writers is that they know full well what is offensive but they nevertheless test the waters. Journalism also entails responsibility. When U.S. President Barack Obama was elected, a Filipino-owned newspaper headline read: “Black in White House,” and not “Negro in White House.” In our modern times, not only Filipinos, but everyone knows how deeply it hurts for blacks to be described as Negroes.

In conclusion, I would like to borrow the late Filipino nationalist Jose "Pepe" Diokno's words from an essay written in 1984, in which he described the Philippines as “a nation for our children,” not a nation of servants as Tsao described it. Building a nation for our children has long been the aspiration of all Filipinos, including me.

23 March 2009

arrest & detention as a means to make money

last december, i wrote up the case of two men who were arrested and falsely implicated in the abduction of a 13-year-old girl in bangladesh. in actual fact, the police and others involved in the arrest were seeking revenge for a variety of reasons.

as the case unfolded, i was struck by two things: the absurdity of the events, and the inordinate level of corruption involved. payment had to be made for everything, from paying the police officers to give the food brought from home (no food was provided in custody) to the men, to topping up the lawyers' cell phones, to payments for what should/should not be written in official reports. as someone noted, it was a 'festival to make money'.

the exact amount of money and what it was paid for has now been tabulated in a new report, 'Use of police powers for profit'. apart from this bangladesh case, the report also includes cases from sri lanka, pakistan, the philippines and burma. they all spotlight the impunity that surrounds law enforcement agencies, and how large sections of the population are subjected to arrest, detention and even torture, simply for officers to make money.

07 March 2009


i fell in love with jalaluddin rumi the first time i read his work in cairo. it was perhaps the infatuation of a 19-year-old exploring existence and spirituality. the story of rumi's friendship with shams and subsequent awakening added to my fervor.

it was words such as these that had me enraptured:

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

“The minute I heard my first love story I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along.”

since cairo, i have kept merely the memory of rumi with me. yesterday however, i came across a poem of his that struck me in its intensity and conviction, not to mention islamic principles (i must admit that in university, rumi's islamic origins were almost irrelevant).

On Resurrection Day God will ask,
“During this reprieve I gave you,
what have you produced for Me?
Through what work have you reached your life’s end?
Your food and your strength, for what have they been consumed?
Where have you dimmed the luster of your eyes?
Where have you dissipated your five senses?
You have expended eyes and ears and intellect
and the pure celestial substances;
what have you purchased from the earth?
I gave you hands and feet as spade and mattock
for tilling the soil of good works,
when did they by themselves become existent?”

what an awesome poem. each line is a reminder, a kick in the backside. i have wasted too much time recently in self indulgence and pity. it's time to get back on track. ayaam-al-taabudat is a great opprtunity for renewal. oh, i also need to find my copy of rumi!

05 March 2009

simple, beautiful and true

a few episodes (little mosque on the prairie) ago, rayyan explained her decision of wearing hijab thus:

"you can express your faith in a lot of ways; i chose to wear the hijab... it's not about the part of me that it covers, but the part it shows."

bizzabt! so eloquently put. that girl rocks. as does the show.

04 March 2009

the gift of rain

written by tan twan eng, the gift of rain was a big and beautiful novel. and it came to me at the most opportune time; its beautiful writing and sense of perspective soothed my spirit when nothing else could. i am in awe that someone's first novel could be this rich in detail, history and characters. reading it on the heels of aravind adiga's the white tiger only underlined its beauty (the white tiger had neither likeable characters nor moving prose).

the beginning of the second half of the novel however, had so much pain that i was forced to put it down a couple of times, blinking away tears. also, i cannot say that i fully grasped the notions of fate and destiny described by eng, or the depth of the protagonist's love for his teacher. not that that detracted from my enjoyment in any way. this story of a war, a country, a family, an individual; of love, friendship and responsibility, is one i want on my bookshelf.

some quotes:

"Memories- they are all the aged have. The young have hopes and dreams, while the old hold remains of them in their hands and wonder what has happened to their lives."

"The world goes by, the young and the hopeful all head for their future... There is the miscoception that we have reached our destinations the moment we grow old, but it is not a well accepted fact that we are still travelling towards those destinations, still beyond our reach even on the day we close our eyes for the final time."

"Like a fist, a cloud of thick black smoke punched out of the funnel and then opened into the wind"

"The most rewarding way to see the place one lives in is to
show it to a friend."

"The pain flared like red ink splashed on paper"

"I told him what i could remember, treading water in the shallows of my memory."

"understanding the language, yet not comprehending the patterns of life to which it gave voice"

"When you are lost... remember who you have been and you will know who you are. These people were all you, and you are them. I was you before you were born, and you will be me after I am gone. That is the meaning of family."

"Anger and sorrow walked with me, joining hands with guilt- the three walls of my prison."

"What will damn us will not be papers, but the memories of men"

11 February 2009


it has been ten days since i have been removed from the real world: work, news, life. i havent been a very graceful invalid. the constant pain, headaches and low grade fever keep me cranky and tired. i know that i suffer from a minor (and temporary, inshallah) injury, for which i am thankful. this does not stop me from feeling sorry for myself though. i know people who function well even when they are not physically feeling one hundred per cent. if only i was one of them. (perhaps this will be incentive to take better care of my body in the future..)

ten days is not a long time. and yet, my hibernation so far has left me reluctant to go back outside. i dont want to shed my pajamas, look in the mirror or have a conversation about anything more complicated than my next meal. this stems from the days before i fell i suppose.. whatever the reason for the fall and injury (assuming there is one of course), i am sure it was not meant to cause further retreat.

it has taken me 35 mins to type the two above paras. time to reward myself with painkillers.

31 January 2009


why is it that whenever i think things cannot possibly get any worse, they actually do? it is harder and harder to get back up. my thoughts get darker each time. and each time, a little bit of hope, a little bit of me, dies. i worry there will be nothing left soon, but an empty shell...

UPDATE: one day later, i dislocated and fractured my shoulder. someone has a strange sense of humour.

29 January 2009

the end of an era

when i came in to the office this morning, ksa's desktop was unnaturally tidy. the surrounding area was clutter-free. i thought i was prepared for this, but seeing the shiny surface of her desk (as opposed to piles of paper) was still a shock.

five years; i have spent more time with her than with my uni friends. we started at ahrc at around the same time. together, we learnt of torture, and forced disappearances and violence against women and caste discrimination and rule of law. we attended protests, wrote urgent appeals and talked to victims. we shared a room (two actually), argued, coaxed and laughed. we were in grad school together, complaining about our respective classes and sharing reading material. we grew together, albeit differently. i think of how we began, and i am so proud to see her now; a strong, articulate and dedicated human rights defender. it has been a long, eventful and fruitful journey. soon, she will begin a new journey, this time on her own.

i am envious. i want a new journey too. partly because after five years at one workplace, i am ready for a change. and partly because nearly everyone i started working with has left. first ap, then sl, then ps, then nc, and now ksa. these were the people i looked to, for inspiration, for courage, for knowledge. and for friendship. we grew together with the organization. the office moved from a tiny, box-filled space where we shared desks to occupying two floors with its own conference room. in turn, individual coordinators became more experienced and confident, resulting in the expansion of country and thematic programmes. the lines representing ahrc, work and life were always overlapping. so much of who i am and what i do has been shaped by these people doing what they do. without them, i feel adrift.

there is room for so much more growth here, i know. i feel a little tired though. but that is for another post perhaps..

19 January 2009

mombasa diary

i returned from mombasa, kenya early last week. now of course, it already seems like a long time ago and it's hard to recapture my thoughts and emotions in writing; this post will be briefer than i originally intended, malish.

temperature: i knew it was going to be hot, but i really didn't expect it to be as bad as it was. not only was it hot and sticky, but the super strong sun also zapped all my energy. i am still amazed that i managed to get so tan (at least five shades darker than my original skin tone) in the first few days, merely from the 15 minute journey from the drop off point to my seat during the waaz. it didn't help that the shed i was seated in had pretty bad ventilation. during power outages i had to meditate my way out of any claustrophobic fits.

people: being my third ashera, i was prepared for the various inanities and bizarreness of bohras from everywhere. i was pleasantly surprised however; the only memorable incidents were a lack of geographic awareness and being totally mystified at eating pumpkin. oh, wait. i heard one too many racist jokes about africans. sigh.

meeting up with friends and family from various places was definitely one of the highlights of this trip- i love you all :)

the adage that travelling and living with people is when you truly know them was quite forcefully brought home to me on this trip. i was staying with persons i've known since i was a kid, and i wasn't expecting any shockers, which took me a good few days to get over!

there were numerous stories of thefts and awful tuk-tuk drivers doing the rounds, but i was lucky enough to not have any first hand experience of this. in fact, i found the average kenyan on the street very helpful and friendly.

faith: before going to mombasa, my faith was riddled with more doubts than i cared for. much as i want to say this is no longer the case, i cannot.

also, for the thousands of people that were there, for the mass practice of religion and rituals, i felt very alone.

safari: the highlight of my one-day safari was definitely a beautiful black-spotted giraffe, whom birds would randomly rest on :)

while others in my car got bored after a few hours, i found myself thinking i could spend a week or so on a safari. i have always liked car/bus/train journeys, and this one had beautiful scenery and animals as well.

beach: moving into a hotel on the beach after ashera was another highlight. i spent a lot of time dozing in the shade of huge palm trees. it was surprisingly windy though, particularly after the stuffiness of the city.