Sharing annotations from “Stranger to the History” by Aatish Taseer

After reading a book, a person is left with many thoughts, some of which are quite subjective but some can be quite unsettling. My reading experience with this book is in middle of both. I don’t know how many of you have read it but I’m sure those who did will agree with me on the “unsettling” part.

This blog post is not a review of the book but more or less, noting down the phases where this book left me speechless. In a way it answered so many questions which were travelling in my mind for quite a long time. But also, left me with many new ones.

Before I write down some excerpts from the book which are quite engaging to me, here is a short intro about the book. This book is a travelogue written by the son born to a Pakistani Muslim father and an Indian Sikh mother, in a quest to know his father, his culture and religion. In journey to get to know his father, he travels across the Islamic states to first know the religion his father belongs to and then his country. During his journey he comes across many thought provoking ideologies about the politics, religion and culture of some popular Islamic states.

[While in Turkey]

The modern republic of Turkey aspired to be part of the European Union. Turkey had been among the most open Muslim countries, but its secularism was dogmatic, almost like a separate religion. The state didn’t stay out of religion, it co-opted religion; it wrote Friday sermons, appointed priests and hounded people it thought to be religious out of the establishment. It was the army, along with Istanbul’s educated elite, who had enforced Ataturk’s aggressive secularism since the founding of the republic in the 1920s.

[While in Syria]

The country had been closed for decades. The regime, for most of its existence, had been socialist, intolerant of religious politics, and the people had only received propaganda. With their role in the world suddenly internationalized, the city was plastered with these cryptic, high-pitched messages. It was the government’s response to trouble in the world beyond. President Bashar al-Asad and the Syrian people were not kneeling before anyone but God. And so, in the absence of a free press, an intellectual life and a political culture, and under the watch of a fierce secret police, the mosque became the only place for people to congregate and discuss politics.

[While in Saudi Arabia]

And, just as it was possible to imagine Islam as organic in Arabia, it was possible to imagine it as alien in places where the faith went. Hybrids would have formed between Arabian Islam and the cultures of the places to which the faith spread. Cultural Islam was the result of these mixtures and it was this, rather than the letter of the Book, that was followed. This Islam, with its mysticism, its tolerance, its song and poetry, its veneration of local saints, often common to Muslim and Hindu in India, was the religion that gave me the string I wore round my wrist. But in modern Saudi Arabia, this type of worship felt like a religion apart from the literalism that was followed.

[While in Iran, talking to a former activist]

“Cyrus, 2500 years ago, had laws that today are displayed in the United Nations. He set out human rights and said that no human being has the right to enslave other beings. This was 2500 years ago! And these mullahs try and tell us that if the Arabs hadn’t come and saved us we’d be eating ants now.”

[Author’s thought] The awareness Iranian Muslims had of the time before Islam, and their conversion, didn’t exist among the subcontinent’s Muslims, most of whom believed they came with the Muslim invader.

…What I had discovered in Iran, and had sensed in Syria, was how violent and self-wounding the faith could become when it was converted from being a negative idea, a political and historical grievance against the modern world, into a positive one.

[In Pakistan]

And here there was a deeper irony. It was thought that the faith, as the basis of Pakistan, would trump all other identities. It didn’t matter what kind of Muslim you were, what language you spoke or even if you lived at the other end of India. As long as you were Muslim, Islam would bridge the differences.

I met a person in Istanbul, who said “To be Muslim is to be above history”. But here history did matter, not just the faith’s encased and symbolic history, but history as realized in language and culture. It was a distortion of faith that all this didn’t matter, and in Pakistan people seemed to fall back on regional, linguistic and denominational differences.

-The Mango King said that things wouldn’t change and that feudalism would go on. He also spoke of the importance of the Hindu middle class who left in 1947 and in doing so identified the key component in the change that came to feudal India but not to Pakistan: the middle class.

The power of the middle class in India dismantled the old feudal structures. In Sind, the cost if realizing the purity of the Indian Muslim state was the necessary departure of Sind’s Hindu middle class. The muhajjir population that arrived in its place had not been able to replace its social function; the bonds that had held together the diverse society of Muslims and Hindus had not arisen among the co-religionists.

My mother’s family were the equivalent of muhajjirs in India- they had come as refugees from the Pakistani side, just as the people here had come from the Indian side- but in India there was no equivalent grouping: the concept didn’t exist.

My journey to seek out my father, and through him, his country, was a way for me to make my peace with that history. And it had not been without its rewards. My deep connection to the land that is Pakistan had been renewed. I felt lucky to have both countries; I felt that I’d been given what partition had denied many. For me it meant the possibilities of a different education, of embracing the three-tier history if India whole, perhaps an intellectual troika of Sanskrit, Urdu and English.

The world is richer in its hybrids.

Love and Peace,

Trapped in desires

Desires…
oh, how you make me fascinate and yet you make me sad…
you make my imagination fly beyond boundaries, yet you make me look trapped…
the desire to know you better, makes me wander, yet the knowing makes me restless
I envy how you sit in a corner of my mind and giggles like a child…
leaving me aching, as my soul mourns…
Oh! how my beloved heart dance on your rhythm,
Knowing about your conspiracies, yet again I fall for you every single day…

Cities within Cities

Cities within cities, town within towns; at times this life feels never ending. As far as you can see, there is life every where. Why shouldn’t one get bedazzled by this. If you look closely you can see Him everywhere, in everything, in everyone. If you listen carefully, you can hear His voice  over the wind, calling you, narrating stories, describing life.
When you are close to Him, you will learn to love, to forgive, to live and then, to surrender.

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Rumi and his Sun (Shams)

Rumi with his Sun (Shams)…

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A life without love is of no account. Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you should seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, eastern or western…divisions only lead to more divisions. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple. Love is the water of life. And a lover is a soul of fire! The universe turns differently when fire loves water. ~ Shams Tabrizi

Shams and His 40 Rules- my companions

Since my university days, books have been my companion on on/off basis. But I have never thought that a book can change my life. Okay! previous line was may be too filmy or dramatic but it sure is true.

During my last job, I came across the term “Sufism” and I felt a certain attraction or may be want-to-know-more kind of a feeling. I began reading about it over the internet. The relationship between Rumi and Shams amazed me and left me with so many questions. Above all, the name that amazed me was of Shams- a name full of universe. Then one day my boss, who is also a very keen reader, told me about the book she was reading. And when she told me that the book is about Rumi and his companion Shams, I took a note of it. And then I forgot about it with time.

After 4-5 years, I came across that very book on a book store and I instantly grabbed it.

40-rules-of-love

 

I’ve fell in love with this book, with the story, with Shams and Rumi and above all, the mystery they hold within them. The famous 40 Rules of Love kept in aweI don’t know what made me read this book again n again, is it because of the character of Ella, who is seeking love inside yet trapped in a perfect life. Or is it because of Shams; a name which always had a mystic impact on me. Ever since I’ve got to know about him and Rumi and the bond they shared, something moved inside me. If I speak honestly, it awakened my soul, my spirit. It made me search for the same love inside me, the love of divine.

Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come? – Shams

For me turning pages of this book is like revitalizing your soul, and getting to know your self better just like your reflection in the mirror.

Note: If you have read this book and it also changed or moved something in you, please do share your story with me. I would love to know in which way it moved you 🙂

Peace & Love!

Hira

 

 

Finding Peace; within and around

Bustling city life and a quiet evening time; two unmatched and probably rare scenarios. I know it is very hard indeed, to find that peace in the midst of this city that I am living in. But I know it is attainable in a city like Karachi, where everybody is in a rush.

Our lifestyle sometimes don’t give us much space to notice the nature’s little gifts around us; chirping of those little birdies, dancing of trees, soothing wind. For me, all of this is like a medicine, to heel or revitalize from busy life.

But to realize this, it took me quiet some time. As I’ve spent days and days wandering deep in my thoughts, trying to find that one thing which can calm me. One thing which can rescue me from going deep in the forest of unknown depression, or frustration.

I’ve read somewhere that you can find whatever you are seeking, but in order to find it. you have to go deep…look within..search from your soul`s eye.

And it is our tendency to often see what we want to see or feel what we want to feel. And nature plays a very important role in doing that. Try to close your eyes and focus on that chirping sound or try to listen the unknown voices which the wind carries, and you will feel a sudden shift within you. As if you are standing face to face with your own self.

Walking in the gardens barefoot, meditating on the voices of birds, breathing that fresh air… Just free your mind by letting your soul fly.

Just breathe… 🙂