Monthly Archives: March 2008

learning lessons

As a young child growing up, I would listen to famous classical singers of my parents’ generation such as Hayedeh and Mahasti. Mind you, this was not my choice. My mother loved (and continues to love) classical music and the depth of their songs, their voices. So what seemed like every day, we would listen to Golha-ye Rangarang or Gol-e Gandom or Azadeh or Khodahafez or any of the other multitude of songs put out by Hayedeh and Mahasti that became instant hits and that I used to passionately hate. Whenever I would complain that the songs were too “funeral-like”, my mom would smile and continue singing along, amused by my boredom and distaste. Continue reading

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norooz

It is this time of the year again; I feel the nature’s longing for spring, I feel its heart beat for spring, its open arms to welcome spring as the trees, flowers, and every living creature (on the northern hemisphere) show their excitement for the New Year and are once again filled with life, waiting to greet a new day, Norooz.  I want to deeply clean our house this weekend, clean every closet, every little detail that has been neglected for a year.  I want to wear new clothes, get a hair cut, learn new things, meet new people, and send letters/emails/text messages to people I have already been fortunate to know.  I want to be all prepared to greet Norooz this year, to be in phase with my surroundings in welcoming Spring into our little house in Berkeley, this wonderful Iranian tradition that I can’t imagine living without. 

 haft_seen.jpg

My mother has grown “sabzeh” for everyone in  my family this year (a type of plant/herb, a “haft seen” item as a part of the Norooz tradition).  Every morning I wake up to see that it has grown noticeably, as if it has realized that Norooz is coming in a week and it has to grow to a decent size before Norooz enters the house.  Flowers in our little yard are all prepared and full of excitement and life while quietly waiting, as if they are holding their breath, looking at each other with their shiny eyes, hiding their smile, waiting…    Continue reading

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Filed under culture, homeland, Iran, traditions

reading & rushdie

A few weeks ago I heard a lecture by the world renown author, Salman Rushdie. A man whose mere mention evokes controversy and emotion for many. Even my mother asked me, “Why do you want to hear what he has to say?” But I thought, what good has my education and upbringing done for me if I can not use it to engage myself intellectually with controversial issues? I wanted to hear what he would say, knowing that I may disagree with his comments. I think most people know of Salman Rushdie for his controversial novel, “The Satanic Verses”, which generated much criticism from the Muslim world and even drew an order threatening his life. However, I was surprised that despite my criticism for some of his arguments, I found myself appreciating other arguments he offered, including his view on literature.

  

Rushdie grew up in Bombay, a city established by the British in India. Rushdie says that this dynamic of the city made him aware of Eastern and Western culture at a very early age. His family was friends with the Urdu poet, Faiz, and he credits his early literary influence to him. He says it is through literature that he learned about the world. His point was that reading literature from different parts of the world is a way for us to access foreign places, people and cultures.

 

Although fictional stories may have many things that are ‘made-up‘, the environment and the character’s reactions to events teach us much about culture. He noted how literature used to be the method that brought news to the world. He gave the example of when Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, met President Lincoln in 1862, he said, “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!” Her novel, being based on actual experiences and anecdotes, was vital in starting the movement opposing slavery. He stressed the importance that we should read about other cultures. A statistic he cited was that less than 2% of books published in the US are translations not originally written in English. American English readers are denied access to a large portion of the world’s literature.

 

Despite modern technology, I sometimes wonder how all this advancement has caused us to become more lazy, more sheltered. We can easily access the news online, on demand, even watch “one minute world news.” But what are we really learning about the world and each other through these ‘short cuts’? Now that I have less time to read, I find myself choosing non-fiction books in the hopes I can learn something solid in the time I have. Perhaps I need to pick up a good foreign novel next time.

 

On a somewhat lighter note, Salman Rushdie also wrote the lyrics to the U2 song, “The ground beneath her feet”. Here is the video to the song…

 

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my culture, your culture

I came across this quote today by the Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore. Such powerful words and yet such a simple message about culture. 
 
“Whatever we understand and enjoy in human products instantly becomes ours, wherever they might have their origin.
I am proud of my humanity when I acknowledge the poets and artists of other countries as my own. Let me feel with unalloyed gladness that all the great glories of man are mine.”  
 
 
And here is an interesting picture I found today:
 
praying.jpg 
BBC, March 6 2008.
An 80-year-old man prays in the middle of the street where Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was killed. 

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reuniting love

They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, but is it true even after 35 years? 

Yesterday there was an article on BBC about a man named Kashmir Singh who was released from a Pakistani jail after 35 years and reunited with his wife and children in India.  It was a Human Rights Minister in Pakistan named Ansar Burney, who worked for his pardon after Mr. Singh was convicted of espionage in 1973 and was lost in the red tape of the prison system.  But no, this is not a political story.  It’s a love story.  His wife, Paramjit Kaur, struggled alone to raise their three children as a single parent.  Below is an excerpt from the article: 

“Referring to his spouse using the honorific, ‘begum’, Mr Singh said that when he last saw her she was a pretty young woman. ‘She is still beautiful but has grown old now,’ he laughed admitting that he remembered very little about his three children. He said it was his memory of his wife that kept his hopes alive through the 35 years of solitary confinement. ”

 True love & respect doesn’t need roses and diamond rings; this is as good as it gets.

Paramjit Kaur - wife of Kashmir Singh - with their photo before he disappeared

 Mrs. Kaur waiting to see her husband after 35 years. 

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freedom

Last week the Pakistani government denied access to YouTube for a short period because some of the content was deemed offensive.  According to the BBC article, reports said the content included religious cartoons that already caused worldwide outrage.  Once those questionable videos were removed, YouTube was back up in Pakistan.  But regardless of one’s opinion, it brings up the largely debated  issue of responsibility towards society versus the rights of the individual.   Should we have the individual freedom to receive any content we desire or should a sacrifice be made for the larger good of society? 

This issue reminds me of a quote my middle school teacher had on a poster that read something like, “Freedom is not about having the right to do what you want, but having the ability to do what is right.”  Continue reading

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Filed under culture, sociology, traditions

rageh inside iran

With a third round of UN sanctions recently being imposed on Iran over its nuclear program, I thought this would be a fitting time to share one of my favorite documentaries, Rageh Inside Iran. Unlike most documentaries on Iran that have journalists enter the worst rural and urban parts of the country to implicitly show its “backwardness”, this film demonstrates how there are many knots, colors, and layers that go into making the finely woven rug that is Iran.

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