Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lahore Attack - A View from Pakistan

Writing about the March 30 terrorist attack in Lahore, Raza Rumi over at Jahane Rumi links this to earlier attacks in both India and Pakistan. He notes that Pakistan is "now the greatest victim of terror and militancy" and asks what might happen next. Read the full story here.


"Once again, in less than a month Lahore has been ravaged by terrorists. Who said that Pakistan was a hub of terrorism - we are now the greatest victim of terror and militancy. The residents of Lahore are scared and the vibrant city seems to be enveloped in a mist of uncertainty and fear.
"The Mumbai and later Lahore 3/3 model seems to be in vogue now. Extremely well trained commandos, with sophisticated weapons and not afraid of death are let loose on the society. The media is hysterical as well and following the Indian media’s cue[s] is now a participant and embedded in the so-called operation......."

"What will happen next? Everyone is apprehensive that this is not the end of the story. There are forces - groups, interests and individuals - who are hellbent on destroying Pakistan....."

Read more here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Afghansitan: Payback time (International Herald Tribune)

Author and former New York Times foreign correspondent Stephen Kinzer writes about America's role in supporting the creation of the Taliban and the recruitment of Islamic militants from other countries to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980's. These recruits, he says, included Osama bin Laden.

Excerpts from the article:

"In order to forge an Afghan force that would wage this war [against the Soviet troops who invade Afghanistan in late 1979], the United States needed camps in Pakistan. Pakistan was ruled by General Zia ul-Haq, who had proclaimed two transcendent goals: imposing a "true Islamic order" in his country and building a nuclear bomb.
"He had also just hanged the elected leader he deposed, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. This was the man the United States would have to embrace if it wanted Pakistan to support the anti-Soviet rebellion it hoped to foment in Afghanistan. It eagerly did so.
"The United States also accepted Zia's demand that all aid sent to Afghan warlords be channeled through his intelligence agency, the ISI, and that the ISI be given the exclusive right to decide which warlords to support. It chose seven, all of them in varying degrees fundamentalist and anti-Western.
"The ISI also came up with the idea of recruiting Islamic militants from other countries to come to Pakistan and join the anti-Soviet force. Its director, Hamid Gul, later said his agency recruited 50,000 of these militants from 28 countries.
"One was Osama bin Laden. Most of the others — brought to the region as part of a U.S.-sponsored project, then armed and trained with U.S. funds — shared bin Laden's radical anti-Americanism and fundamentalist religious beliefs...."

"One million Afghans died in the decade-long war. Five million fled to refugee camps in neighboring countries. Many found food and shelter at religious schools sponsored by Saudi Arabia, where they were taught the radical Wahhabi brand of Islam. Those schools were the cradle of the Taliban...."

"Jimmy Carter approved the idea of sponsoring anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan. Ronald Reagan poured billions of dollars into it. George H.W. Bush turned his back on Afghanistan, allowing it to degenerate into the chaos from which the Taliban emerged. Bill Clinton refused to confront the looming threat with anything more than an ineffective cruise missile raid on one of bin Laden's camps. George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan, succeeded in toppling the Taliban regime, and then, rather than staying engaged, immediately turned his attention to Iraq."

Read the full article here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

International Women's Month - Feminine Influences


I couldn’t say when I first learnt about Lakshmibai, Rani (Queen) of Jhansi. All I can say with certainty is that I was still in primary school. But she instantly became the heroine of my childhood.

A 23-year-old woman on horseback, sword in hand, her young son strapped to her back, leading an army into battle against a mighty but unjust empire.

What’s not to idolize? Lakshmibai had everything I could possibly want to see in my hero/ine: courage, strength, leadership, a refusal to be bound by convention, and a determination to fight injustice both in her own behalf and on behalf of others.

A woman in 19th century India, taking on the might of the British empire. First politically, then through the legal system, and finally on the field of battle.

Never, in any of the stories, does one detect a note of self-pity for the hardships and injustice life brought her. Neither does she appear to have considered herself constrained in her actions by the fact that she was a woman.

This, briefly, is her story:

Manikarnika, nick-named Manu, was born in 1835 in the northern Indian town of Varanasi. She lost her mother when she was 4. At 14, she married Gangadhar Rao Newalkar, Raja (king) of Jhansi, a man much older than her. At marriage, she was given the name Lakshmibai (a practice that was fairly common in certain communities in India).

At the age of 16, she gave birth to a son, who died in infancy. To ensure that the ailing raja would have a successor, the couple then adopted a son, whom they named Damodar Rao. Lakshmibai lost her husband when she was 18.

Much of India at this time was ruled by the East India Company on behalf of the British crown, but Jhansi was one of the “princely states” still ruled by Indians. However, the Company was extending its influence wherever it could, seizing on any excuse to annex a state. In this case, the British refused to recognize Lakshmibai or her adopted son as a legitimate successor to the king.

Lakshmibai sought legal recourse, appealing to the Directors of the Company in London through a British lawyer. The appeal was rejected and her territory annexed.

No doubt this young widowed woman was now expected to go back to her father’s home, giving up on her kingdom. But Lakshmibai was not about to give up so easily. She began to prepare her people, including the women, to fight for justice.

In 1857, four years after the death of Lakshmibai’s husband, a rebellion by Indian soldiers in the town of Meerut spread quickly through large sections of northern India to reach the court of the last Mughal emperor – now emperor only in name, with the power firmly vested with the British administration.

Lakshmibai reclaimed the leadership of Jhansi and joined the Indian forces fighting Britain. From June 1957 to April 1958, she defended Jhansi against the British. Forced to escape with her life, she then led newly formed battalions in what was now the Great Indian Mutiny (and would later be called the First War of Independence by Indian historians).

In June 1858, at the age of 23, Lakshmibai fell on the battlefield. Her son survived and was pensioned off by the British. The mutiny/war was crushed and power over India passed formally to the British monarch (rather than the East India Company). The last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was exiled to Burma (Myanmar), where he wrote heart-rending poetry about his fate and where he eventually died.

Although the mutiny/war saw many atrocities on both the Indian and British sides, Lakshmibai and her troops remained untainted by this disreputable aspect of the rebellion.

The story of Lakshmibai’s courage lived on. Her short life continued to inspire generations of Indians. When Subhash Chandra Bose raised the Indian National Army to fight for independence in 1942, the women’s unit was named after Lakshmibai.

Thinking of her story now, it strikes me that she was a true karma yogin, walking the path of (right) action without thought of its likely outcome. This path teaches us to do what is right, regardless of outcome. As the Bhagavad Gita says: To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction. (Chapter 2, Verse 47)

Friday, March 20, 2009

150,000 Civilians Face Death in Sri Lanka

"A Slaughter Waiting to Happen”

Lakhdar Brahimi of the International Crisis Group writes in today’s International Herald Tribune that an estimated 150,000 Sri Lankan civilians are in danger of being killed, caught between the military and the LTTE guerrillas. In an article titled "A Slaughter Waiting to Happen," the former special adviser to the U.N. Secretary General writes:

"An estimated 150,000 civilians are now trapped in a tiny pocket of land between Sri Lankan military forces, whose artillery shells regularly fall among them, and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who shoot at them if they try to escape. Food, clean water and medical assistance are all increasingly scarce.

According to U.N. figures, 2,300 civilians have already died and at least 6,500 have been injured since January. Some 500 children have been killed and over 1,400 injured. What happens to the rest of those caught in the middle of the government’s onslaught and the Tigers’ fight to the death depends not only on the two parties but on the international response as well.

The crisis is born of acts by both sides that most probably amount to serious violations of humanitarian law and perhaps to war crimes or crimes against humanity.”

Read Brahimi’s full article here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

International Women's Month

March 8 was International Women's Day and I wrote a tribute to my mother. I enjoyed honouring Mum in this way and got some good responses from readers too. When I showed the post to Mum, she was really pleased.
So far so good. But I think I'm not done with IWD yet. I think I'd like to write about other feminine influences in my life, particularly during my early life. So I'm declaring March International Women's Month. Watch out for more posts...
Meanwhile: who were the major feminine influences in your life when you were growing up? Write and tell us.

Sisterhood Award for Blogging

I have received a blogging award! How fab!
Alana Roberts, who runs the Womens Blogger Directory, has kindly given me the Sisterhood Award for “always being so caring and supportive of others and for your inspirational posts on all of your blogs” (see Alana's comment on the right side of this blog).
I am honoured and very happy to receive this recognition.
In my Oscar acceptance speech - :) :) - I’d like to say something about my “blogging philosophy.”
I write my blogs to share ideas and events that I think are worth sharing – designed to bring a smile to my readers’ lips; remind them to be kind to themselves and to others; touch their hearts in some way; or offer them different views of health, sprituality and relationship...
I am still learning some of these things myself, but as I look ahead to my 50th birthday, in July, I feel the need also to share that which life has already taught me. This is particularly true of Terataii, my blog on Reiki energy healing, holistic health, and spirituality. My latest blog, Wandering Pam, is more of a "just for fun" blog, with stories from my travels in Asia, Europe and East Africa.

My favourite blogs and bloggers in the Directory
In turn, I would like to award 2 of my fellow members of the Womens Blogger Directory:
Alana Roberts. This is an obvious choice - it is only Alana's ideas, drive and energy that have made this directory possible. Within a short time, the directory has grown to have 95 members who network, support one another, provide feedback and exchange ideas on the directory itself as well as in a Google group. Alana's blogs: Visit Ireland, Blogger Beginner, and Family Food and Recipes.
Vera Marie Badertscher. Vera's wonderful blog combines the two great pleasures of reading and travelling. Her posts inspired me to dig into my own memory and start writing travel stories. Check out Vera's blog, A Traveler’s Library.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

International Women's Day

Ma Tujhe Salaam - A Tribute to My Mother
One day after International Women’s Day (March 8), I pay this tribute to the woman who has given me life and unconditional love, my most cherished human values and the best traditions of my Indian heritage.

My mother is loving and kind, yet strong and independent. Tell her a sad story and her heart melts within seconds; but cross her and she will never, ever back down! Her passion, I think, is feeding people.

When I was growing up, she was always there for me, being a full-time mother, wife and home-maker. My earliest memory is of falling off a tonga – a horse-drawn carriage – with my mother. This happened in Kashmir when I was about 2 years old. It is the only memory I have from that age. I guess I remember it because it was scary, or at least a huge shock to the system. Yet it’s also a memory of being protected because I remember sliding off the tonga still in my mother’s lap, with her arms tightly wrapped around me.

From later years, I remember my mother, a staunch follower of Mahatma Gandhi, telling me to turn the other cheek when my male cousins would hit me. Fortunately for me, my father had a more practical approach to life. He taught me to fight back, not to inflict too much damage on the other person but enough to discourage them from picking on me.

Though I rejected this particular lesson, I imbibed other aspects of my mother’s Gandhian views. She taught me to speak the truth without fear or reservation. So much so that my father says I’m not just truthful but often “brutally frank.” Well, I’m trying to temper the “brutality” without losing the frankness.

I learnt from Mum – and my father – to treat people with respect and courtesy. It did not matter whether they were Hindus, Muslims, or Christians; rich or poor; men or women.

I remember an elderly gentleman moving into our home in Delhi for the entire winter one year. Mum introduced him to me as her “godfather.” He lived in Norway with her older sister’s family, but found the winter there too harsh. So he had come to spend it with us. I loved this man, who told me a story from the Mahabharatha every night. Before he left, he had told me the entire tale, with all its twists and turns, and its myriad sub-plots. Wonderful.

It was only much later I learnt that he had been my grandfather’s housekeeper and had moved to my aunt’s household when she got married to help her run her new home, first in India, then Indonesia, and finally Norway.

Another year Mum’s elderly aunt came down to escape the cold winter in Kashmir. She, too, told me stories, half in Hindi and half in Kashmiri, which I didn’t know too well. Both my parents accorded her the respect due to the oldest member of the family and so I did too.

Our home was an open house to any relative, friend, or friend of a friend who was passing through Delhi. Female guests simply moved into the room I shared with my older sister. Male visitors slept on a thakhat in the living room. People who dropped in to say hello were invariably persuaded to stay on for the next meal.

I didn’t find any of this odd. I thought this was how all families operated and I enjoyed all the comings and goings. The house was open to all my friends too, of course.

Mum has always been a wonderful hostess. Equally, she is a gracious guest. Except for the closest of friends, she would not go to anyone’s home “empty-handed,” as she put it. She kept a stash of gifts to be dipped into as and when required. If she didn’t have an appropriate gift to hand, she would take flowers or fruit. Never, ever, under any circumstances would she go without a gift if it was the first time she was visiting someone’s home. That was an absolute no-no.

She was careful also to never allow her host to feel uncomfortable on our account. When I was in my teens, we had close family friends who lived nearby. Since the relationship was so informal, we would often drop in on each other at short notice. One time, when we had gone over, the lady of the house apologized because she had cooked only a simple vegetarian meal that day. My Mum, with her most innocent look, asked: “What day of the week is it?” When our hostess told her, Mum said, still with that innocent look, “Oh we never eat meat on Tuesdays” (or Thursdays, or whatever it was). This happened at least 3 times before our friend finally caught on!

In our own home, my Mum resolutely refused to teach me to cook or do household chores. I was possibly the only Indian girl of my age back then who couldn’t even make tea. (Actually, I still can’t do it too well.) Girls were generally groomed to be good wives and daughters-in-law in India’s joint family system. My Mum assumed, like others, that I would eventually marry and “settle down.” But, in the meantime, she wanted me to have fun. Enjoy yourself, she’d say to me, there’s no rush to get involved in cooking and housework!

Both my parents considered education to be of great value, both in itself (as knowledge) and in its ability to make one financially independent. Mum wanted her daughters to be well educated and to work before marriage, if not afterwards. I remember her talking about this even when I was really young, perhaps 10 or 12 years old. She felt it was important for a woman to know she was capable of looking after herself even if she wasn’t going to work after marriage. That way, “if anything went wrong,” she’d know she could be financially independent.

(As things turned out, I worked, married, continued to work, and never really “settled down,” happily moving around Asia with my husband.)

My mother, now 83, continues to be a loving presence in my life. She doesn’t cook in her own home any more, but when she visits my husband and me, she makes a special effort to make us a favourite dish once in a while. It’s hard for her to stand for long, so we put a chair for her in the kitchen. Our cook-housekeeper helps her by cleaning and chopping the ingredients, and in other ways too, but Mum directs the process. (Sometimes my parents cook together, but that deserves a post of its own…)

When she’s in her own home in India, with me in the Philippines, we talk often on the phone. She never fails to ask me to give her love to my husband – “and even more to you,” she invariably adds. Then she chuckles and adds: “But don’t tell him I said that.”