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The Guide: June 2013 Edition

shahidul:

Activism from the air. Just received this on the flight from Tokyo to Istanbul. Power to the garment workers.

Originally posted on LightBox:

TIME LightBox presents our monthly round-up of the best books, exhibitions and ways to experience photography beyond the web—from the Steve McCurry exhibition in Colorado and the 55th Venice Biennale to Roger Ballen’s ‘Portraits from South Africa’ in Los Angeles and the Belfast Photo Festival.

‘The Guide’ on LightBox will be published monthly. If you have submissions or suggestions for upcoming round-ups of the best books and exhibitions, feel free to pass them along via email before June 15. We’ll also be updating this gallery throughout the month.

See the previous editions of The Guide:

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June 4, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Shahidul News has moved

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April 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Al-Qaeda and Western Intelligence Operations

by Rahnuma Ahmed

Bin Laden was, though, a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies…. Al-Qaida, literally “the database”, was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians.

Robin Cook, British foreign minister, 1997-2001
(in saying this, he was divulging confidential information.
Cook died a month later, in August 2005).

That al-Qaeda originated in the US-financed mujahideen guerilla war in Afghanistan, that Osama bin Laden enjoyed American support and received CIA training in `weapons, sabotage and bomb-making,’ is well-known. That Laden later fell out with the US administration over the entry of US forces into Saudi Arabia (the presence of foreign forces in the “land of the two mosques”) after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991, is also well-known as is known that the resulting enmity led to al-Qaeda’s attacks on 9/11 in the US (for instance).

But this story line — once-allies-now-enemies-unto-death — seems untenable in the light of recent research conducted by British political scientist and policy analyst Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation and the Anatomy of Terrorism (2005) . A Norwegian daily, more-recently, has published an article based on his research (Kristin Aalen, Terrorists Working for Western CountriesStavanger Aftenbladet, 24.11.08 ). It is accompanied by a geo-political world map — largely true to his findings except for over-simplifiying the Pentagon’s sponsorship of al-Qaeda fighters in the Balkans — which outlines how these two forces have worked together. The Norwegian text has been substituted by its English translation, available on Nafeez’s blog. Without going into the details of what is shown on the map, I want to write instead about what he says of al-Qaeda (`Terrorism and Statecraft: Al-Qaeda and Western Covert Operations after the Cold War,’ in Paul Zarembka ed. The Hidden History of 9-11).

Click here to download PDF

 

Click on map above to enlarge

Click on map to enlarge or on hyperlink above map to download PDF.

 

 

A vehicle of Western covert operations

Al-Qaeda is a monolithic, hierarchical organisation. Its activities are coordinated by its leader, Osama bin Laden. It is the source of contemporary international terrorism. These conventional protrayals, writes Nafeez, are false. The truth is, that al-Qaeda — a term coined not by Islamists but by the CIA — refers to the computer database that Robin Cook had pointed out. Of course, Nafeez adds, this does not mean that it is not `some sort of identifiable entity.’ It does exist, but not as `a self-directed institution in its own right,’ rather, as an amorphous association of networks.

Factually-speaking, al-Qaeda is `a post-Cold war strategic instrument.’ Although born within the realities of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, in the CIA’s vision, its operational scope was not to be restricted to Afghanistan only. According to a CIA analyst interviewed by Richard Labeviere, chief editor at Radio France International, “The policy of guiding the evolution of Islam and of helping them against our adversaries worked marvellously well in Afghanistan against the Red Army. The same doctrines can still be used to destabilize what remains of Russian power, and especially to counter the Chinese influence in Central Asia.”

According to Nafeez, al-Qaeda’s activities, during and after the Cold War, related primarily to a new doctrine of covert destabilisation, one that was, and is, being implemented in `new theatres of operation strategically close to Russian and Chinese influence,’ i.e., eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and central Asia. As such, al-Qaeda is better characterised as a `conglomerate of quasi-independent Islamic terrorist cells,’ one that spans at least 26 countries.

This conglomerate is inextricably embedded — both with regard to its raison d’etre, and its modus operandi — in another conglomerate, a `disturbing’ one, says Nafeez, of international Western diplomatic, financial, military and intelligence policies. The geo-strategic structure of al-Qaeda derives directly from western corporate interests, those particularly related to monopolising global energy resources. In all mujahideen activity, one consistently comes across the directed involvement of Western financial, military and intelligence power. This takes place through state-regional nodes in strategic regions (prime examples are Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Algeria), direct liaisons, and human nodes. US, British and Western power `routinely manipulate al-Qaeda’; in all cases, including 9-11, it generates destabilisation. This `paves the way for, and ultimately sustains the involvement of, Anglo-American interests in the monopolization of regional resources and the establishment of military-backed geopolitical power.’ Thus, al-Qaeda is not, as popular perception goes, `a foreign enemy external to Western civilization’. Rather, it is the name for `a highly developed category of Western covert operations,’ one that is designed to secure destabilization through the creation, multiplication, mobilization, and manipulation of disparate mujahideen groups.

Epilogue: Debates are currently raging in Bangladesh over the necessity of cracking down against militancy, the lack of a clear government policy, the likelihood that Islamist militant groups are regrouping for attacks, that madrasas are breeding grounds for extremists, militant attacks are aimed at destablising the government, and the need for regional anti-terror initiatives.

Are these debates, and policy proposals, totally un-connected to the policy of `guiding the evolution of Islam’ in what is now considered by some to be a new sphere of US strategic interest? Are these un-connected to the US Embassy’s growing concern to promote `respect for American values’ in Bangladesh? (see Sumit Ganguly, The Rise of Islamist Militancy in Bangladesh, report commissioned by the United States Institute of Peace, 2006 ). Those taking part in the debate, either deliberately or foolishly, feign ignorance.

Published in New Age, 27 April 2009


May 1, 2009 Posted by | Global Issues, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Pakistan: Hope amidst the chaos

By Salma Hasan Ali

In about a week, InshAllah, I will be traveling to Pakistan. My ticket is booked; visa arrived this morning; shalwar kameezes are at the dry cleaners.

It’s not the ideal time to be going to Pakistan. A recent report by the Atlantic Council said Pakistan “is on a rapid trajectory toward becoming a failing or failed state.” A New York Times editorial last week put it this way: “Almost no one wants to say it out loud. But between the threats from extremists, an unraveling economy, battling civilian leaders and tensions with its nuclear rival India, Pakistan is edging ever closer to the abyss.”

The abyss grew depressingly deeper this week, when the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked in a commando-style ambush, leaving eight people dead and several players wounded. Twelve gunmen — carrying sacks of ammunition — attacked the team’s bus in broad daylight — in the heart of Lahore — and then escaped in motorized rickshaws. What??

The terrorists knew what they were doing: attack the nation’s most cherished pastime — it’s symbol of camaraderie and goodwill — and you attack the heart and soul of the country and instill maximum fear.

So, why exactly am I going to Pakistan when relatives there and here are counseling not to, and those who can are leaving?

It’s to witness the work of two men – one a Pakistani, the other an American – who are tirelessly, quietly, and with humility working to improve the lives of Pakistanis so the desperation and hopelessness at the root of the current chaos, one day, diminishes.

An AP photograph in the NYT shows those who died in the Lahore massacre lying on stretchers covered with blood-stained white sheets with four letters printed on them: EDHI.

Edhi is hardly known in the United States, but to Pakistanis around the world he is a true hero. In the past 60 years, he’s created one of the largest and most successful health and welfare networks in Asia. He started off begging for donations. Today, he runs a nationwide organization of ambulances, clinics, orphanages, homes for the physically handicapped, blood banks, mortuaries, and much more. Edhi, and his wife of nearly 45 years Bilquis, live in a small two bedroom apartment next to his office in one of the clinics. He accepts no salary. He’s on call 24 hours a day. Their wedding night is indicative of how they spend their days: Edhi and Bilquis rushed a 12-year old girl with major head injuries to the hospital and supervised blood transfusions throughout the night. His vision of charity is at the heart of Islam. Why don’t we hear about it?

Many know of Greg Mortenson’s inspiring story through his best-selling book “Three Cups of Tea”. He is receiving the Sitara-e-Pakistan, Pakistan’s highest civilian award, in Islamabad on March 23rd. No doubt, he will receive the award accompanied by his indomitable Pakistani staff, including Suleman Minhas, with whom I’ve been communicating. After two brief phone conversations, and not even a shared cup of tea, I already feel like family.. I call him “bhai” (brother); he writes to me as “respected Salma”. Most of our conversations have focused on his assuring me not to worry; that the minute I land in Islamabad, I will be his most revered guest. No wonder Mortenson was blown away by Pakistanis’ generosity and warmth.

Maybe Mortenson will bring some of the girls from his schools, because as he always says, they are the true heroes. Perhaps Shakeela, who started by writing with sticks in the sand, and is now in her third year of medical school in Lahore. She will be the first locally educated woman to become a physician. Or maybe Ghosia Mughal, one of the first students to return to school in her village after the devastating 2005 earthquake in Azad Kashmir, that killed her mother, several of her siblings and left her father paralyzed. “Watching that first brave girl enter a school, is like watching man taking his first step on the moon,” says Mortenson. “It’s one giant leap for mankind.” Mortenson is keenly aware that behind one girl comes dozens more, eventually hundreds and thousands.

No doubt there are tragic forces at play in the country trying to undermine the fabric of its politics, culture, society, and soul. Sometimes seemingly overwhelming forces. But there are also kernels of hope that remind us that all will not be lost to violence and a distorted mindset.

There are people like Edhi and thousands more working each day to feed, nurse, console, support and shelter. There are people like Suleman and hundreds of others fiercely loyal to Mortenson’s commitment — and the commitment of so many NGOs around the country — to educate Pakistan’s children. There are young women like Shakeela, smart, capable, determined, and feisty, who will ultimately change the country, if given the chance.

This is the Pakistan I’m going to see. And when I get back, these are the stories I’m going to share, with anyone willing to listen.

March 7, 2009 Posted by | Pakistan, South Asia | , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Horror and grief: a nation besieged

Text by Rahnuma Ahmed

Photos by DrikNews

One of the factors that is said to have contributed to the rebellion. The previous government (under emergency rule) had initiated a programme of providing subsidised food to tackle the unprecedented increase in food costs. The army is said to have whisked away huge amounts of money through the programme, while BDR staff complain of not even receiving legitimate payment for extra work. Dhaka, Bangladesh. December 03 2008. Muniruzzaman/DrikNews

One of the factors that is said to have contributed to the rebellion. The previous government (under emergency rule) had initiated a programme of providing subsidised food to tackle the unprecedented increase in food costs. The army is said to have whisked away huge amounts of money through the programme, while BDR staff complain of not even receiving legitimate payment for extra work. Dhaka, Bangladesh. December 03 2008. Muniruzzaman/DrikNews

The military cordoned off parts of Dhanmondi in an effort to quell the uprising. Soldiers in Satmasjid Road. Dhanmondi. 9:30 am. 25th February 2009. Dhaka. Bangladesh. Shafiqul Islam Kajol/DrikNews

The military cordoned off parts of Dhanmondi in an effort to quell the uprising. Soldiers in Satmasjid Road. Dhanmondi. 9:30 am. 25th February 2009. Dhaka. Bangladesh. Shafiqul Islam Kajol/DrikNews

BODIES of army officers had been found, they had been dumped in the sewage canals that lay underneath the BDR headquarters in Pilkhana. Two dead bodies had been the first ones to surface, far away, in Kamrangirchar.

Three civilians had died too, on the very first day. But as news of fifteen more dead bodies of army officers surfaced the next day, the civilian deaths seemed to pale away.

While the extent of the conflict was unclear bodies of slain police and civilians were found. Many lay unattended as sniper fire prevented medical help from reaching. 25th February. Dhanmondi. Dhaka. Bangladesh. Adnan/DrikNews

While the extent of the conflict was unclear bodies of slain police and civilians were found. Many lay unattended as sniper fire prevented medical help from reaching. Later bodies of soldiers were found, in water bodies near Dhanmondi as well as in mass graves. 25th February. Dhanmondi. Dhaka. Bangladesh. Adnan/DrikNews

And then a mass grave was discovered in the BDR grounds. Thirty-eight dead bodies were unearthed, including that of the director general Shakil Ahmed. A couple of other bodies were found, killed and dumped in ponds, drains, and sewage lines.

Many innocent civilians got caught up in the fight. Bus helper Muhammad Babu talks of his near escape. One of his compatriots died while two others were hit by bullets. 25th February 2009. Dhanmondi. Noor Alam/DrikNews

Many innocent civilians got caught up in the fight. Bus helper Muhammad Babu talks of his near escape. One of his compatriots died while two others were hit by bullets. 25th February 2009. Dhanmondi. Noor Alam/DrikNews

As the long hours passed, the whole nation seemed to be holding back its breath, aghast at the enormity of what had happened. At the carnage that had accompanied the rebellion. People gathered around to listen to the radio, watched breaking news spots on television, read aloud newspapers. News travelled through word of mouth. Collective sighs of relief were heaved when family members who had been held hostage were released. But the discovery of more mass graves, the news of family members also having been killed, of the many scores still missing, leave people speechless.

The conflict spread to other parts of Bangladesh. The BDR of Baitul Izzat BDR Training Centre, Satkania, rebelled on the 26th February. There was heavy gunfire inside the camp 9.30 am spreading panic in the area. After the shooting BDR took control of the training centre. BDR claimed that army started the gunfire. Trainee BDRs discarded their uniforms and ran away to nearby villages. Chittagong, Bangladesh. February 27 2009. Raj Aniket/DrikNews

The conflict spread to other parts of Bangladesh. The BDR of Baitul Izzat BDR Training Centre, Satkania, rebelled on the 26th February. There was heavy gunfire inside the camp 9.30 am spreading panic in the area. After the shooting BDR took control of the training centre. BDR claimed that army started the gunfire. Trainee BDRs discarded their uniforms and ran away to nearby villages. Chittagong, Bangladesh. February 27 2009. Raj Aniket/DrikNews

As the conflict spread, rebel BDR soldiers took position with heavy guns in Sylhet BDR camp. 26th February. Sylhet. Bangladesh. A H Arif/DrikNews

As the conflict spread, rebel BDR soldiers took position with heavy guns in Sylhet BDR camp. 26th February. Sylhet. Bangladesh. A H Arif/DrikNews

Horror, incredulity, and a sort of numbness have set in. Scores still remain missing, as the gagging stench of decomposing flesh hangs over Pilkhana grounds.

After the military was initially kept back, tanks were deployed. More than 10 tanks and one APC (armed personnel carrier) took position in front of Abahani sports ground, while soldiers took position inside the field. 26th February 2009. Amdadul Huq/DrikNews

After the military was initially kept back, tanks were deployed. More than 10 tanks and one APC (armed personnel carrier) took position in front of Abahani sports ground, while soldiers took position inside the field. 26th February 2009. Amdadul Huq/DrikNews

How could the jawans go on such a killing spree to right the wrongs done to them? What on earth could have possessed them? These are questions that are repeated endlessly by people in all parts of the country. Yes, they did have grievances (over not being given full rations, not being sent abroad on UN peacekeeping missions, over low pay, unpaid daily allowances promised for extra duties rendered, recruitment from the army to the higher, decision-making positions, etc, etc) but surely, their course of action was disproportionate by all accounts. Not to mention, suicidal (as I write, the idea of disbanding the BDR is being considered).

Is there more to it than meets the eye? In a crisis as grave as the one that faces the nation now, where does one seek answers to the truth? It is better to know some of the questions than all the answers. But what if some of the questions being raised are seen, especially by powerful sections, as blaming the victims of the tragedy? Do we have the resources, the intellectual capacity, the political will, and above all, the courage, to raise the right questions? Will these be tolerated, in moments of such deep grief, where passions rage high?

Were unseen forces at work? Wild conspiracy theories are doing the rounds. Do these not block off hard-headed attempts at understanding whether unseen forces were really at work? Surely we need to know the truth, in the interests of the nation-state, and in the interests of the survival of the many millions who live within its boundaries. It is a nation whose citizens are proud of their hard-earned and fought-for independence, and of their sovereignty, notwithstanding the deep fractures that cause long-standing divisions.

A girl just released from the BDR headquarters in Dhaka. Bangladesh. 26th February 2009. Amdadul Huq/DrikNews

A girl just released from the BDR headquarters in Dhaka. Bangladesh. 26th February 2009. Amdadul Huq/DrikNews

I see women and children seated on the pavement or standing outside the BDR gates, keeping long hours of vigil, for news of their loved ones. I see a few faces break down in tears as yet another body is identified. I see some women reach out to console, while others, who still have shreds of hope, lower their heads in shared grief. Hoping against hope that their husbands, or fathers, or brothers or sons will return. Alive.

Family members of the hostages were released in front of the BDR headquarters in Dhaka. Bangladesh. 26th February 2009. Amdadul Huq/DrikNews

Family members of the hostages were released in front of the BDR headquarters in Dhaka. Bangladesh. 26th February 2009. Amdadul Huq/DrikNews

Army tanks moved into the BDR headquarters in Pilkhana. After 33 hours the rebel BDR soldiers surrendered and went back to their barracks, and police and army took over the BDR headquarters. A woman waited outside the headquarters for news of missing relatives. 27th February 2009. Dhaka. Bangladesh. Shafiqul Islam Kajol/DrikNews

Army tanks moved into the BDR headquarters in Pilkhana. After 33 hours the rebel BDR soldiers surrendered and went back to their barracks, and police and army took over the BDR headquarters. A woman waited outside the headquarters for news of missing relatives. 27th February 2009. Dhaka. Bangladesh. Shafiqul Islam Kajol/DrikNews

I see a mother holding up a wedding photograph of her missing son and his newly-wed bride. I grieve for them, just as I grieve for much-respected inspector general of police Nur Mohammad’s daughter, widowed, at two months. Scores remain missing, still.

I read of the Indian government’s offer to send a peace mission to give security to the Calcutta-Dhaka-Calcutta Moitree Express that runs between the two cities on Saturdays and Sundays, to be manned by Indian paramilitary forces such as the Central Reserve Police Force, the Railway Protection Force, maybe, even the Border Security Force (The Telegraph, February 27).

I listen to balance in reporting being urged, particularly in the case of the electronic media, since the accusations of the BDR jawans had been highlighted on the first day of the rebellion in some of the private TV channels. It is being said, the other side’s version, that of the army officers, had not been sought, that it had not been reported. But surely the lack of press briefings, either from the government or the Home Ministry, or from the ISPR, contributed to this situation? I listen to a discussant argue that command failure, intelligence failure and corruption should not be mentioned. I cannot help but wonder, how does one seek out the truth where such a besieged mentality operates, where collective grief, horror and condemnation can be offered and accepted but only on terms that are acceptable to the recipient? Where narratives of grief and pain and horror seem to be overlaid with other narratives, that of the right to rule.

A candlelight vigil to mourn the dead in a park opposite the BDR headquarters. People of all religions offered silent prayers for the victims. 1st March. Dhaka Bangladesh. Amdadul Huq/DrikNews

A candlelight vigil to mourn the dead in a park opposite the BDR headquarters. People of all religions offered silent prayers for the victims. 1st March. Dhaka Bangladesh. Amdadul Huq/DrikNews

The dead cannot be brought back to life, nor can the brutal happenings be erased from the nation’s history. We can only console the bereaved. We can only learn lessons from it, as a nation.

It is the nation – as a whole – that grieves for the army officers, and their family members. It is the nation that must stay united, since the crisis seems grave enough to threaten our existence. It is the nation that must come together to seek answers, and to discover the truth. A unity of interests must prevail, rather than that of any particular institution. Or else, I fear, we would be doing injustice to those who lost their lives at Pilkhana.

————————

Written 1 March 2009, published in New Age 6 March 2009

Earlier coverage:

March 6, 2009 Posted by | Bangladesh, governance, Rahnuma Ahmed | , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Scheherazade of Today

By Bushra Ejaz. Translated by Paramjit Singh Ramana.

Once she decided to banish love out of her life, her world turned upside down. She had never thought that later she would face any such problem that she won’t be able to solve. And trying to solve that problem, she would herself become a problem. She had never thought that in loveless times the flowers fade, the breeze turns into scalding wind, sadness engulfs the walls of your home and despite the cacophony of noises emanating from the courtyard, a deafening silence overwhelms you and takes possession of your heart like a cobra with its hood raised, whose hissing sets your very being on such a fire that neither the cold water nor the icy winds can ever extinguish. The heart burns, the cobra hisses, the fire rages and doesn’t die out. Whatever you do, it does not die out; it just refuses to die out.

She put her left hand on her chest and walked slowly towards the window. It was pitch dark in the street opposite. A municipal bulb, visible near the last corner of that lane near Zainab Massi’s [maternal aunt] house, looked like a lamp burning in a hut at the edge of a forest, which sometimes shows the way to the lost travellers. That bulb was surrounded by a silent darkness. A murmur could be heard coming from Uncle Arshad’s house, situated just opposite the window. Chachi [paternal aunt] Rashida will as usual be narrating the same old tale of Scheherazade to her grandsons and granddaughters. She would conclude with the words: “What a wonderful woman she was! How intelligent, quick witted and brave!” When she heard that story as a child, she had asked, flapping her eyelashes, “How come, Chachi?” “That is because instead of accepting defeat, she had decided to bravely fight the cruel king. God helped her succeed. Look children, it is an honour for the brave to die fighting. Then death ceases to be death, it claims the status of martyrdom and that is a very high status, indeed,” Chachi had said.

Chachi used to tell this story always on the last day of the week. This was her principle. The children waited for the story for full seven days, and then she poured it into their ears, drop by drop. That was why this story was very popular among the children. The next day was a holiday and she remembered how instead of flying kites, playing marbles or simply making noises on the roof with her siblings, she had spent the day engulfed in silence. The issue of dying while fighting bravely had got stuck in her young consciousness. She spent the whole day lying on the cot and looking into the sky. In her heart she repeated innumerable times what aunt had said. But she couldn’t figure out what was so special about dying while fighting bravely which earned such praise from Chachi. What courage Scheherazade had displayed that so overwhelmed the aunt that she was narrating her story to everyone? When she could comprehend nothing, she decided not to listen to the story of Scheherazade again and came down from the roof.

Great, Chachi! She felt the echo of conversation reach her ears, and a sigh escaped her lips. Your Scheherazade had succeeded in defeating death due to her narrative gift. But here life itself has been crushing everyone since centuries. I haven’t seen any Scheherazade who could prevail over it. Everyone is afraid of it, and can be seen bowing before it with folded hands. Death appears helpless in facing life. Death is kind and one’s own, at least, it doesn’t reject you. Rather it accepts one into its lap with a lot of affection. She felt like shouting at Chachi Rashida through the window and ask her to let go of the poor Scheherazade now, for god’s sake. To forgive that Scheherazade! The poor girl might have got tired of fighting death. Let her face life now. She should also know that there is a world outside the world of art, where there is hunger, there are worries, there is sadness, there is hatred, there are contradictions and…. And life is like the cruel king. And life doesn’t pay any attention to the narrative skills of the master storyteller. It has no interest in any such art. Rather, it would be more appropriate to say that it’s not possible to trick it with any such art.

Life cannot be appeased. It has its own facts, its own assessments, its own canvas, its own brush and its own colours. Ideas too are its own and so it paints whatever catches its fancy: Upright, inverted, oblique, crooked, as she feels like. And the remarkable thing is that nobody can mould life the way one wants. ‘O.K. Scheherazade! If you ever come out of the discourse created by Chachi Rashida, I shall tell you what life is all about.’ The sigh emanating from her heart became an expression of her very being. Now in her eyes could be seen the innocence of an eleven year old girl, who takes note of the quickly lengthening shadows on a hot summer afternoon; one who has a small painting brush in one hand and a simple page, torn from a notebook, fluttering in the other.

She wanted to make a painting of the shadows; the shadows of the arches, walls, terraces and the attic of the house. The shadows that came down from the mulberry, mango, black plum and margosa trees growing in the courtyard and spread there in strange shapes, forms and directions. She used to watch the play of shadows while sitting in the centre of the courtyard in one of the arches of an old Baradari whose plaster was coming off. And her feeling of wonder used to multiply manifold when she would see an ill-shaped shadow emerge from the arch she sat under, and spread on the ground. “Do I look like this?” surprised she would wonder and run into the room. It was during those days that she thought of capturing the shadows in a painting. Perhaps in this way the shadows could be prevented from spreading and lengthening. But that day, her amazement knew no bounds when she saw a shadow in the middle of the arch, move strangely left and right with a yard long brush on a square shaded piece of paper. Do shadows also…? She thought and threw the painting brush away.

It was during those days that a strange accident took place which threw her into a never ending vicious cycle. All her later life was moulded into that cycle. And that cycle became her life cycle. She could never get out of it. Then she could see nothing. She closed her mind’s eye. All her innumerable little childhood joys were strung into an unending chain of tears. Unobtrusively she put that chain around her neck, never to take it off. And then that little girl metamorphosed from Mother’s Muni to Zohri, to Zohra Baji and finally to Zohra Aapa. Recollecting that transformation, Zohra felt a cold shiver quicken through her being. Wrinkles began to appear on her face, which expressed her innocent fears. Sad glitter of twinkling glow-worms began to flicker on her empty palms. A scene emerged in front of her gloomy eyes, a scene that had snatched the joy of breathing from her and had burdened a twelve year old girl with a load of centuries. When she tried to carry the burden, her shoulders slumped, her back bent double, her hands started trembling and legs turned shaky. But she couldn’t even complain against the burden.

She just kept laughing. To keep smiling in face of an extreme sorrow is also akin to defeating the grief. Implicitly, it was like victory over grief. But she learned too late that it was not so. Grief was a wrestler that displayed greater tricks when it was out of the arena. It was simply impossible to prevail over it. Now she left the window and sat in the chair. She untied her long black hair and resting her head on the back of the chair, closed her tired eyes and took deep breaths. “Life is a four-directional battle, Miss Zohra Sultan.” A whisper rose from somewhere close by. “How many opponents will you fight? You’ll get exhausted.” “This exhaustion is here since those days Professor Zaka, when I didn’t even fully understand the meaning of exhaustion.” She thought despondently, feeling the murmuring silence enclosed within the four walls of the room. How can I tell you, Professor Zaka? When the upheaval occurred, a good deal was buried under the rubble.

Long time ago, Professor Zaka, a dark night had swallowed the light out of my life like a cruel demon. The sleep had turned into a continuous wakefulness and dreams, into frightening dreamlessness. When a 12-year-old girl, rudely shaken out of her sound sleep by the frightening noises all around her, had chosen to plug her ears with her fingers. She had devoutly prayed to be blinded in both her eyes when she witnessed that horrifying scene. Finding herself defenceless and overcome by her vulnerability, she had accepted defeat and sitting near the mutilated bodies of her dear ones, had dipped her fingers in their thick blood and written a pledge on her own self. Crying, she had noiselessly run to the rooftop with Maya pressed to her bosom, to talk to God. Perhaps she had the illusion that God is nearer the rooftop. There is no barrier in-between, but this too was her delusion. She learned later that God is far away from everywhere. It is not so easy to reach Him. So she did not cry while giving the final bath and burying the blood-drenched bodies of her parents and three younger siblings. The dry dust flying into her eyes had settled on her eyelashes, spread on her lips and engulfed her very existence. Later, staring at the photograph of a terrorist, printed on the last page of a newspaper, she had tried hard to bring back tears to her dry eyes, the tears that got lost somewhere in the labyrinth of some dark alley on a brutal night.

Professor Zaka, the walls of that room used to be very pitiless and chilly where I, clutching Maya to my bosom, attempted to get rid of the questions written over the frightened open eyes of those mutilated bodies, and to find some sleep by hitting my head against the pillow. Covering both my eyes with palms of her hands, I used to vigorously recite the Ayat-ul-Kursi [a prayer from Quran]. “Go to sleep, Go to sleep”, I used to admonish myself. Those days I used to feel very angry with God. I wished I would come face to face with Him and ask what type of a God He was who destroyed the world of the unsuspecting? Did He prefer those who haughtily roamed around freely, nonchalantly killing or injuring whosoever they liked, without any worry whatsoever? Pitted against them were people like us, who even after having been destroyed completely, kept on praying to You, talking to You.’

A car blew horn in the street below, she got up from her chair, shut the window and lay on the bed. On the wall facing her, was a photograph of twenty year-old Maya. Maya on whose lips a smile had spread out like flowering buds and life glittered in her eyes like a fountain in the hills. In her confident manner, there was an extraordinary openness. As if she will jump out of the photograph and exuberantly embrace her, “Aapa, Zohra Aapa, the blue sky, high snow clad mountain tops, adventurers conquering those tops and the determination visible in the eyes of those people, fascinate me. Aapa, let us also go to conquer some top. I wish to plant my Aapa’s flag on the highest peak of the world. Zohra Aapa, the Great! Zohra Aapa, the highest peak in the world, higher than the Himalayas, mad…” She turned in the bed and felt a sharp twinge of sorrow rise in her chest: “Wah Maya! How would you know of what brittle clay your sister is made of, how fragile is her being? It was for your sake that your Aapa transformed herself into something like the Himalayas. What else could she do?” “But Aapa you never revealed why we were so alone despite having so many relatives?” “Because we loved to live with freedom” she had smiled.” “That is okay. But, when our parents died, you were so young. Tell me, how you decided to live on your own?”

On this probing, a pitiless night buried deep in her heart stared at her ironically. But she was ready. Since long, she had prepared herself for this moment. So she spoke calmly: “Maya, you have always been stupid. You fool, how was I alone? My Maya was with me, so were Noor Chacha, Massi Khairan, and Chacha Rashid. There were Masi Zainab and Mama Tufail. And we were there. They all were there. We have been living among them all. They used to be here all day long. Leave that, Yaar Maya! The truth is that I didn’t like locking up our parental house and shifting somewhere else. Should I tell you the truth, Maya?” She became a bit sad. “You were so young; you do not know how our parents used to look after this house. They had supervised every brick that was laid in this house. They had carefully tended every leaf, every plant and every flower-bed with their labour and prayers. Then how could I desert this house and let others take its possession. Maya, this house is a place of worship for me, where love is a prerequisite and purity a duty; where you can respectfully pay your obeisance any time. Where you can worship and that is all.” Saying so, she tried to erase the image of that horrible night from her mind, when in that place of worship the blood of innocents was senselessly shed. That night, the cruel rite of butchering was performed; something, which was neither so ordained by God, nor expected as an offering by Goddess Kali. Perhaps, even she doesn’t demand such sacrifices any more. And God, He has been uninvolved from the very beginning, so uninvolved. Why should He require such sacrifices?

“What happened, Aapa?” Maya was troubled by the changing expressions on her face. “Nothing, my dear.” She had controlled herself. A smile was playing on her dust covered lips. “Then what happened, Aapa?” Detecting curiosity in Maya’s eyes, she continued slowly: “Then, your Aapa grew up, matured, became the most mature, maturer than our parents and she succeeded the mother, took over her kingdom. In her kingdom, she simultaneously performed the duties of the king, the queen and the slave. She ordered shut all the secret escape routes. She zealously protected the borders of her kingdom and began to enjoy life with her dear Maya Rani. Everyone was surprised; everyone was confident about the imminent collapse of the kingdom; everyone was waiting. Everyone spread rumours; because such things had not happened before. But as you say, your Aapa is stronger than the Himalayas, so everything went off well. (And… my Maya grew up. After a long time she breathed peacefully, holding Maya to her bosom.) Perhaps life would have gone on comfortably had Professor Zaka’s arrival not caused the upheaval. A little joy trapped in her heart for centuries escaped through some small crack and settled on the forehead of Professor Zaka. What? Completely oblivious of his presence, Zohra stared at him surprised.

“Zohra Sultan! Time is fast running out of your grip. There is only one path available to those obsessed with the quest for truth in this universe; it is that they surrender their true need to the care of some Mansoor without wasting any time. Why do you forget that you are not alone in this universe? There are some other equally headstrong people here, who are driven by the same spirit, who live with that spirit and love their selfless desire.” She saw that a ray of happiness was now playing on Professor Zaka’s chest.

“Zohra Sultan! Howsoever high your aim, it should not defy nature, otherwise, the aim does not remain aim, it grows into obstinacy. Those who go against nature suffer and cause suffering to others also.” “Professor Zaka, I don’t understand why you are after me? What do you want from me?” she heard herself speak. “I don’t mean any harm, Zohra Sultan.” She observed that the glitter of some unseen happiness shining in Professor Zaka’s eyes had suddenly begun to fade away. He bowed a bit to place the notebook he was carrying, on the table. And she observed that the little ray of happiness that had been glowing on his chest suddenly vanished. “I wish to draw you out of your self-created world where you have imprisoned yourself since ages.” “It is not like that, Professor Zaka.” The confidence in her voice had a ring of defeat to it. “Yes, yes, I know you regard this as your kingdom,” he spoke aggressively. “But without seeking your pardon, I wish to assert Miss Zohra Sultan that you are making a big mistake, a very big mistake.”

This was the moment when angry Zohra Sultan ordered him out of her world. Banished love out of her life. And taking Professor Zaka’s spirit as an illusion, she withdrew completely into her own little world.

But after this, the time sense began to go awry. The tastes began to alter and the moods underwent transformation. After moving at her own pace for such a long time she began to feel an innocent urge in her heart to stop, to rest which she tried her best to suppress with her strict rules and discipline. But she saw that the urge was growing like the bamboo. The system of her kingdom got disturbed within days, hours and moments. The eyes, on guard since so long, began to feel heavy because of the sleeplessness; the eyelids tended to close under the weight of some unknown burden. In her heart she felt such a pang that she was even afraid to name. “Is that all Zohra Sultan! How strange that you, despite being so courageous, intelligent, and self-confident, don’t know what is in your heart? Something that you long for, but can’t admit to yourself. Perhaps admission is defined as cowardice in your dictionary. But I would like to make this clear to you that there is limit to denial also. ‘If defiance crosses a certain limit, it results in problems.’” The words of Professor Zaka came from so close that she was surprised.

“Professor Zaka! Long ago I tried to make a painting of the shadows. But I was so frightened by my own shadow that the painting brush fell from my hand. But do you know what happened after that? On seeing the innocent blood of my dear ones, I dipped my finger in the blood and wrote a pledge on my very being. The surprising thing is that this scene didn’t frighten me but a strange defiance permeated every pore of my being I cannot get rid of, now. Professor Zaka! You are right this ‘kingdom’ was a delusion; I have no hesitation in admitting this. I am in love with you but, believe me, my defiance creates a wall between you and me, a wall made of such a mirror that I find myself standing on its both sides. On both sides, I find myself. In such a situation, I do not understand where you disappear. Now tell me, where should I go? What should I do?”

Far away, Professor Zaka was fast asleep in a room in the youth hostel, when something suddenly woke him up; as if the touch of a wing of some divine angel roused him, saying “Get up, Professor Zaka!” He got up, and yielding his fulfilled dream to his shortened sleep, went towards that part of the city where a girl, captive of a cruel moment and sleepless since ages, was standing on the crossroads, carrying the burden of defiance on her head.

February 22, 2009 Posted by | short stories | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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