Friday, 11 December 2009

this kind of just made my day :)

even though I love the original , by Jason M'raz, this is great.


Thursday, 26 November 2009


Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and
lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you
to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit
to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be
gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the
trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it
is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its shame, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
-- Max Ehrmann

Monday, 23 November 2009

the environment

Frustration, Anger, Depression, Exhaustion, Apathy, Wonder, Confusion
These were all the emotions I felt while watching the film, “The Age of Stupid”
(highly recommend it)
Basically, it’s about the environment and takes a look at what might happen in the year 2055 if we don’t change the way we live, based on most scientific projections.
And while it takes place in the future, all the current and past events and footage are all actual events..
So why all the above emotions?
It’s frustrating on a lot of levels.
First of all, some people don’t know the disastrous effects of climate change. They don’t see why it is such a pressing issue. They don’t realize it affects PEOPLE. Themselves. But especially the poor! Where is our sense of humanity?
Secondly, while some people realize that it is a pressing issue, don’t care to do anything about it. They feel that their minor changes might not make any difference. (And maybe that’s true, which is another reason to be frustrated). Or they think there are other issues that are more important than the environment..
Third, governments (and many are guilty) don’t care to change their policies because they are more concerned with profits. And truthfully, I think that no matter what I do, unless certain countries clean up their acts, real change might not happen!
Fourthly, it’s frustrating because this movie was VERY well made. And while there were a good number of people attending, the theatre was by no means full. And the people that came were probably the ones that already are aware and live their lives that are more “green” than many others.
The movie made me angry, because it showed how resources and economic gains trump all else for so many people. People could care less about the environment, or people, or the future of the planet as long as they get what they want.
There was also an instance in the film when wind tunnels were being pushed in a town in the UK. And a man dedicated so much time and effort into figuring out how to make this town more environmentally friendly. And yet, the town voted against it, because the people thought that these windmills would not be aesthetically pleasing.
Oh, I didn’t know pollution and intensified hurricanes and polar bears drowning are pretty..
This issue makes me tired. It is something that keeps coming up and while I try to live my life in ways that are “green”, I’m not sure what difference I make. Even my closest friends couldn’t care less.
But even me, I definitely have a huge carbon footprint. I travel all over the world and planes are awful for the enviro..
But then I get into this apathetic mode..
This world has gone through so many mass extinctions already, and here’s the next (I think we’re on the 6th)
It probably wasn’t supposed to be as quick as it is happening, but it would have eventually happened anyway..
So what do we do?
I don’t know? Why is it my burden?
This movie also showed that same man (whose windmills got shot down) and his family and how they decided not to take a trip to reduce their carbon footprint.
And while that is great, it made me sad that they are sacrificing (well I’m not sure if it’s a sacrifice), but choosing to live their lives in a way so that the rest of humanity can benefit and yet, humanity doesn’t care about them!
So, why should they care?!
And I’m convinced that it’s not a problem of just people in North America living unsustainable lives. I think if people are given the chance to live like that, they would.
India is a perfect example. The wealthy of India are probably much more consumer driven than many North Americans.
Maybe I’m losing faith in humanity..
I’m not sure what will happen…
But climate change is happening. People are being affected. Desertification is causing more hardships in places like Africa (if that is even possible)
These so called “natural” disasters are probably the earth’s revenge..
I don’t know!
What will we do…

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Autumn beauty

Even though the sun sets super early, Autumn is kind of beautiful..

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Travels through India - Part 1

I waited on the platform to take a train to Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh as the next place where I would conduct field visits for my Fulbright project on women excluded from microfinance loans. It was Friday, and I was supposed to get to Khandwa by Monday, so I decided to explore and head to Omkareshwar for a couple days. Omkareshwar is a holy city for Shiva-worshipping Hindus, located about 40 kilometers away from Khandwa.

As I stood on the platform, I tried to ignore the stares all around. By this point, I was almost used to the stares I received from both men and women, wondering what a girl was doing traveling on her own in India. I knew that the backpack I wore and my Chaco’s sandals attracted attention my way, but I also figured no matter how I dressed, I would somehow still stand out, despite being of South Asian descent. Even the shalwar qurta I wore was probably too loose, or too outdated, or too simple that wearing it hardly helped. People I met were sometimes appalled and sometimes awestruck when I would tell them I was traveling on my own throughout India working on a research project. Girls would ask me if I was scared, since we all knew that India may not be the best place for a woman on her own. Often, I would find myself surrounded by men. Once, I realized that the bus I was on did not have a single woman on it. This particular time I was a bit nervous, since I would have to find the bus stand at Khandwa and find the right bus to get me to Omkareshwar. I also knew that by the time I would finally reach Omkareshwar, it would be dark and I’d have to find a place to stay for the night. I did have what almost every tourist has; the infamous Lonely Planet book and so I tried to put my doubts aside.

As expected, not everyone wanting to get on the train had a confirmed seat. So, as the train pulled into the platform, there was a mad rush of Indians scrambling to get on, some carrying babies and some carrying large sacks of items they had to sell. This chaotic scene was accompanied by those passengers who were able to pay the extra fee and get a confirmed seat for the train ride. They grumbled as they pushed through looking for their seats and shooing away anyone in their way. During this particular rush, when I was finally able to get on the train, I walked past the bathroom, which let out an awful stench. I hoped that my seat would be somewhere away from the bathroom to avoid the smell, although my tiny bladder would inevitably cause me to frequent the bathroom at some point during the overnight journey.

The ‘sleeper class’ in trains is the most popular mode of travel throughout India. To get from one place to another in India can often be done by an overnight journey on the train. The compartments are set up so that there are 3 people sleeping barrack style across from 3 others. And along the side of the train, parallel to the direction of the train are 2 people sleeping. It can get very ‘cozy’. Until 10pm, however, the benches are not put down so everyone is sitting and sharing benches. At 10:00, once the benches are arranged for sleep, one cannot sit up in his or her seat comfortably as there is not enough space to sit up straight.

I found my seat and at most there should have been two others on my bench. Instead, I found a couple and their child, and two others. I pointed to my seat and they made some room for me next to the window to squeeze myself in. I figured the ticket collector would makes his rounds soon enough and those with unconfirmed seats would have to get up. Across from my crowded bench was an equally crowded bench and a heavy set man made it clear his was a confirmed seat. He mumbled as people made room for him to squeeze into rather than getting up. He asked everyone to show him their tickets to prove that the seats were actually theirs. He also had trouble fitting his luggage underneath the bench, as the space had been taken.

One of my favorite parts of traveling by trains in India was the chance to gaze out the window at the scenery. There was something very soothing about watching the Indian countryside, minus the trash that literally colored the entirety of the Indian railway network. On this particular trip, however, the child of the couple insisted that she sit at the window seat. She whined until I let her parents know I didn’t mind moving over. The Indian man across the way was having an obnoxious conversation with the man next to him about confirmed seats and that if people needed to travel, then they should pay the extra fee. He went on to talk about the population of India and how that’s the only way. He was clearly speaking loud enough so that everyone could hear him. He tried engaging me in conversation as well. I nodded sometimes, politely but did not want to be a part of the conversation so took out a book and tried reading.

Once the ticket collector came around, there was an argument between the ticket collector and a few in the section, including the couple with the small child. He got frustrated and finally said if they wanted to stay they had to pay him, which they did not. Apparently they were in the wrong train compartment. The mother kept bickering in Hindi saying that they had a small child and he should be considerate. The little girl was whining as they tried prying her away from the window. They finally agreed to leave and pulled out their many bags from under the bench, grumbling about people being inconsiderate. Once they did leave, the man across started his rant again about confirmed seats. He was complaining about this particular family, saying they acted as if they owned the seats, and took over the space underneath. He was speaking to everyone and no one. I was glad I was back at the window and tried droning him out.

I later learned this man’s name was Rajesh. He would switch off from ranting about something and snoring. Unfortunately, this continued for what seemed like the duration of the 16 or so hour journey. It was one of the many sleepless nights I experienced on India’s trains.

“Coffeeee! Chaiiii! Chaiiii! Coffeeeee!” This was a phrase one could expect at almost every stop and definitely in the early hours of the morning. Men would hop on trains to try to sell as much coffee or tea they could and would hop off once the train started moving again. Often, you could buy it through the windows and many transactions were done as the train was already in motion. My general rule of thumb for any street or train food is if it’s warm, it’s probably safe. I decided to get myself a cup on this particular train ride since it had been a restless night, where I heard a symphony of snoring and I knew it would be a while before I could lay my head down somewhere comfortable. The coffee I bought tasted like really bad watered down Nescafe. At least it was warm. Early mornings in Madhya Pradesh were chilly in January. Since the windows didn’t all shut all the way either, the night had been cold. I had also been, probably unnecessarily, paranoid of someone taking my things during the journey.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The End

“Turn the page.”

“But I want to keep reading.”

“The story ended.”

“Isn’t there more?”

“Perhaps in another sequel, but it hasn’t been written yet.”

“But I hate when stories end; I don’t like to pick up new stories, because I miss the people from the last story. It takes too long to get to know a whole other cast of characters.”

“That’s how you felt when you started this story.”

“But this one was different from all the others.”

“And the next one might be too.”


“Maybe I should have read it slower to make the story last longer.”


“But now you know how it ended and it ended so it’s time for a new story.”

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Frustration about the UN Gaza Report:

1. The fact that under US pressure, the PA decided to postpone the decision for the report makes the PA lose credibility, and then obviously the Palestinians will side with Hamas, who the US labels a terrorist organization. – Well, if the US didn’t pressure the PA to postpone the decision, then the people wouldn’t think it was a weak body…

2. Power politics

3. I guess in a way it’s a good thing a report like this is written. So many other human rights atrocities go unreported, in China or Burma for example…

4. It’s just frustrating that people cannot recognize the humanity in each other, and things like this exist

5. The argument by many countries abstaining from voting or voting no is that this will hinder Middle East peace efforts. Well, the Middle East is in a sad state, and it’s not a matter of the effects of the report; the case at hand is the report itself. And if war crimes were committed, then acknowledge that.

6. Maybe passing the report will in fact hinder peace efforts, but how much worse can it be?

7. I wish people would just step back and realize how tiny we are in this universe and for how short a time our lives actually are in comparison to the history of the world. And those who are responsible for such war crimes would get a clue.

Some recent articles...

Monday, 5 October 2009

marathon reflection

I wrote this about 3 years ago, after I finished the Chicago marathon in 2005...

October 9, 2005. 7:55 AM. As I stood at the starting line my heart raced as I tried to stay warm amid masses of other runners. I wondered what I had been thinking when I registered for the Chicago Marathon. 26.2 miles! Was that even possible, and who in their right mind would want to undergo such torture? As my adrenaline was pumping, I realized that I could do this. I had trained for this. I knew this would be a true test of physical and mental stamina. Running was something I had come to enjoy and thrive on, and I was determined to run the entire 26.2 mile course, without stopping to walk. It would be something to show for myself, for all the shin splints and knee pains I had over the years, all the running shoes I went through, all the hours spent at track and cross-country meets, and the heaps of running shirts I had acquired that now overflowed my closet.

I started out running with friends as an after school activity in 7th grade. At the time, running was far from enjoyable. I dreaded even running a mile. I finished last at my first meet and many meets following. I am still not sure what brought me to practice everyday. Thinking about those days gives me shudders as I hated it so much. Who knew that years later I would complete the Chicago Marathon? It was definitely something I could never have conceived of doing. Somewhere between the speed workouts, track meets, team bonding, and spaghetti dinners, I came to enjoy the company of other runners. On our runs, we shared stories, sang, laughed, schemed how to cut runs short, and often lost ourselves in thought. Running became a nice release and time of solace. In time, I learned to concentrate my mind on how my body felt, run for distance and not worry about time. I focused on endurance and found that I could go for long runs lost in my thoughts or lost in a conversation with a friend. Running was something positive I added to my life. It kept me in shape and allowed my mind to think clearly. This enabled me to perform better with day to day activities.

Training for the marathon became an all encompassing activity. It invoked a lot of time and determination above anything else. I had to prepare myself both physically and mentally. The foods I ate, and didn’t eat, the way I had to adjust my weekends so I could set aside a large chunk of time to go on a long run, the way my body felt throughout the week, the way my mood was affected by a run all became a part of the marathon training. My first long run started out with 9 miles and continued to increase. I reached a point where quitting was just not an option. I had told myself and too many others that I was running the marathon and quitting would have been a cop out and disappointment. Luckily, people believed that I could do it when I doubted my own abilities and this provided the encouragement I needed.

On race day, I was blessed to have so many friends and family members come out and cheer me on. It was great seeing all the fans and the energy and excitement in the city of Chicago was truly remarkable. The first 13 miles went by like a breeze. I was enjoying the outstanding running weather we had for the day and the crowd did an excellent job keeping us all pumped. It was an amazing feeling to be running through the city with so many people gathered to celebrate running. It was around the half-way point that I realized I still had to keep running for another two-plus hours. My mind seemed to be turning on me, and I had to remind myself that running was mental and I would slow down as soon as my mind started giving up. At the 18th mile mark, I was running out of fuel fast, so it was great to see people I recognized cheer me on. I put on a smile as I ran by. This kept me going for a bit. At 23, I wanted to do nothing other than collapse. At 25.2, I saw my sister and friend holding up signs with my name and shouting that I had just another mile to go and that I was so close. As much pain as I felt, I gave it my all and wanted to finish strong. When I finally reached the 26th mile mark, I could not believe that I had another point two miles to go and that point two was the longest point two miles I have ever run. Right before I crossed the finish line, I saw six of my friends that were waving their arms in the air for me.

Crossing the finish was glorious. I had just finished 26.2 miles of constant running in 4 hours and 50 minutes. My legs felt like rubber and all I could think about was how I never wanted to run again. As I was walked through the shoot, I heard an announcement blaring next year’s marathon date; October 22, 2006. I looked to the girl who finished next to me and we scoffed at that. I remember absent-mindedly putting my shoe up on a ledge for someone to remove my chip, which was used to keep track of runners throughout the course and keep track of time. As I kept walking someone put a big piece of foil around me and the other runners to help us stay warm. I was greeted by someone who gave me a hug and put a medal around my neck for finishing. When I finally found my friends and family among the thousands of other people, I was greeted with so many hugs. It was such a great feeling to have had so many people come and cheer me on. It was then that I realized how blessed I was for being able to have completed such a feat and to have had so much love and support.

Monday, 28 September 2009

There is a beautiful light inside
I know it’s there.
It’s hiding.
But I feel it.
It just needs kindling.
It’s waiting.
Waiting for its moment so it can shine.
There is a beautiful light inside
I know it’s there.
It’s waiting.
It’s hiding.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

At-talasim - Ilayya Abu Madhi

A poem we learned while in Syria
(probably a horrible job of translating and transliterating, but enjoy..)

Ji’thu la a3lamu min ayna, wa lakin athithu

Wa laqad absarthu qudamee tariqan famashaythu

Wa sa’abqee mashyyan in shi’thu hadha am abaythu

Kayfa ji’thu? Kayfa absarthu tariqee?

Lasthu adree!

I came not knowing from where, but I came

And I saw in front of me a path so I went along

and I will continue walking

How did I see my path?

I have no knowledge!

A jadeedu am qadeem an fee hadha alwujudu

Hal ana hooru thaleequn am aseerun fee qeewud

Hal ana qaidu nafsee fee hayatee am maqood

Atamana ananee adree wa lakin

Lasthu adree!

Am I old or new in this existence?

Am I free or a handcuffed prisoner?

Am I in control of myself in my life or…

------(don't understand that line)

I have no knowledge

Wa tareeqee, maa tareeqee? Ataweel am qaseer?

Hal ana Asa3du am Ahbithu fihi wa Agur

A’Ana assai’r fii Addarbi am addarbu yaseer

Am kilana waqifun wa addahru yajri?

Lasthu adree!

And is this my path, or not my path? Is it long or short?

Do I rise or descend on it?

Am I walking on the path or is the path walking

Or are all of us aware that time is running?

I have no knowledge

Wednesday, 26 August 2009


While working at Rosati’s (our family pizza store) the other day and engaged in conversation with Josh, the driver, I reflected on the situation and smiled. Two completely different people with the most contrasting life experiences were working together, sharing jokes, and having good conversations.

Josh is 22, unmarried, lives with his girlfriend, has 2 kids, never finished high school, moved out when he was 15, is half-greek from his dad’s side, he doesn’t speak to his dad, smokes a pack of cigarettes a day, overweight with high cholesterol, has never flown in an airplane, has never been outside the midwest, and works at Rosati’s Pizza as the delivery guy.

I am home for a month halfway through my graduate program on Islamic Studies, which is in London, am 25 years old, also unmarried but also without kids, working on a masters degree, still very connected to my family and parents, of South Asian descent, striving to live a healthy organic lifestyle, flown to more countries than fingers on both hands, and also am working at Rosati’s answering phone calls and taking orders.

I like the idea that our paths have crossed and maybe there is no reason other than sheer coincidence that we’ve ended up at the same place, but I think it’s pretty cool that Josh and I get along so well and can laugh about mundane things and learn from each other’s life experiences.

Josh told me about his high school days and how he got kicked out of high school. It seemed he was one of those “problem” kids in school, but he also seems like someone who has “cleaned up his act”. His story made me frustrated with the administration that was so quick to dismiss him, presumably because people like him made their school reputation look bad. He did go to a school that is reputable for a public school in the suburbs of Chicago. Had the school admin looked a little deeper, they would have seen that Josh just came from a troubled home and perhaps school could have been his positive outlet. They didn’t give him that chance.

He’s been trying to pass the GED, which is the test for people who never completed high school, but unfortunately has been unsuccessful. Meanwhile I’m studying for the GRE and feel pretty similarly about my progression.
Josh and I are both struggling with the language arts/verbal sections of our tests. I told Josh that reading might help, since he mentioned to me that he has read one book in its entirety ever. I always take in books to read at the store since there is plenty of downtime, so I think I’ll take in a book or two and see if he wants to give reading a shot. When he told me he had only read one book ever (and didn’t even know which book that was) I couldn’t help but feel that he was missing out on something.

Meanwhile, Josh has a good attitude towards life, seems optimistic, and dreams big. He has high hopes for his life and that makes me happy. I really hope he gets to do the things he talks about doing. I hope he passes his GED, which he has one more chance at.
I probably won’t keep in touch with Josh when I go back to London, but I’ll always remember his positive attitude and I’ll always hope he succeeded in all that he set out to do. And maybe something about my life will resonate with him and stick with him.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

“Love After Love” – Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Incredible Shadow Art Created From Junk

Monday, 8 June 2009


There is something so indescribably beautiful about sunsets.
The feelings they evoke, the visual pleasure they provide,
Even cloudy days produce the most brilliant sunsets.
As the sun goes down slowly in the horizon, the sky is filled with such vibrant oranges and purples, and pinks, and blues.
What is it about sunsets that give such pleasure and yet such longing?
I am content. I know that no matter what today held, whether it was a good day or not, tomorrow is a new beginning. I am thankful that I was able to enjoy nature’s priceless gift.
I am unsettled. This sunset has signified the end of another day. If it was a good day, it ended. If it wasn’t a good day, is it too late to make the day great?
Did I not accomplish everything I wanted?
Am I sad no one shared this beautiful moment with me?
As I write this and look out my window, I see the orange, red, yellow, purple slowly fading out, leaving a thin pink line that will slowly fade out and the blue and gray clouds getting darker, I feel content and yet long for something; though I can’t quite place it.
The sunset was able to pull at my heartstrings. No matter how much I try and resist emotions, the colors in the distance provoked such intense feelings inside.
It was a beautiful.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

thankful for these 5

“No matter how bad things may seem, there will always be at least 5 things you can think of to be thankful for” – A dear friend of many years said this some years ago.

So here goes:

1. Thankful for my family, especially my siblings – the loves of my life! And that they understand my bitterness
2. The weather is beautiful
3. I have food, clothes, shelter, and money. This is more than half the world’s population? –really do I have that much to be complaining about?
4. I can name 4 dear friends right now that I can pick up my phone and call and they will make me feel better (zb, ka, nm, vh)
5. I have a lot to be happy about; running makes me happy, writing makes me happy, reading makes me happy. All of these are things I’m so thankful I’m capable of.

Ahhhhh feeling better already

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Jakla Punama and Fatima Begums' Stories

This is something I wrote last year in India, while working closely with Prof Harper and a few others to present a scheme to ease the agrarian distress in India.
A few nights ago, I ran into Professor Malcom at an event on poverty and microfinance.
He mentioned these stories I wrote up, and as I re-read them just now, am deciding to post...

Jakla Punama’s story, Anna Sagar Village, Andhra Pradesh

The sun was setting in Mehbobnagar district of Andhra Pradesh. The staff at the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development of India (NABARD) had arranged for Professor Harper and me to visit a widow; Jakla Punama, a woman who’s husband was a farmer who had committed suicide. Farmer suicides are rampant throughout India for multiple reasons, so Jakla Punama was one of thousands of widows living in rural India. We entered Anna Sagar village and walked past the community police department. A group of men were gathered around a table and chairs that had been arranged for our visit. We came on behalf of an expert panel seeking to address the issues of India’s agrarian distress.

The village chief or “sarpanch” proudly came up to meet Dr. Malcolm Harper. As typical of many Indians, it seemed the sarpanch was eager to impress Harper, a white man, by his status in the village. Harper, however, was unconcerned about anyone or anything other than Jakla Punama, and why she wasn’t asked to sit down when we were. When the sarpanch asked Harper and me to take a seat, Harper demanded where the seats were for Jakla, her mom, and her two daughters. The sarpanch seemed so taken aback by Harper’s blunt behavior and the NABARD staff jumped in saying that the sarpanch did not understand Harper’s accent to which he replied, “Well it’s not a matter of understanding accents; it’s common courtesy.”

After everyone was finally seated, the next dilemma to be solved was ridding our meeting of the male spectators gathered all around the table. After some commotion and interventions, we finally got to hear the story of Jakla Punama’s husband’s death, without our visit turning into a village spectacle.

Later, Mr. Wadavi, a peace-maker, from the NABARD staff accompanying us tried to explain that what had happened was a part of the culture that Harper didn’t understand. Harper responded by saying that he did understand it all to well and that was the problem.

Jakla Punama’s late husband was a paddy farmer. He had taken an informal loan from a local moneylender to dig a bore well. He dug his well, purchased pipes, and bought a motor, but the yield of his well was quite low. So, he leased his land out to come out of his debt situation. According to Jakla, her husband’s total debt was around 50,000 rupees. There may have been other debts of which she is unaware. In 2002, Jakla’s husband had gathered enough money and was able to repay what he owed. Unfortunately, the moneylender did not issue her husband a receipt and denied being repaid. He then forcibly took over the farmer’s land and grew his own crops. According to Jakla, her husband almost immediately committed suicide after the moneylender cheated him by consuming pesticide.

In 2004, after the introduction of a government scheme, Jakla Punama was given 150,000 rupees in compensation. She used the 50,000 rupees to repay the loan amount and then the rest was deposited into an account with the State Bank of India, under her daughters’ names. She also receives 200 rupees a month as widow’s pension.

Though Jakla Punama should have inherited whatever land was in her husband’s name, her mother-in-law does not allow her to cultivate the land, forcing Jakla to continue seeking out daily wage work. Her mother-in-law has given the land to someone else to till. Because Jakla is presumably illiterate, it may be difficult to gather the information to find out whose land it is and how much belongs to her.

Fatima Begum’s story, Tatipathy village, Andhra Pradesh

The following morning, we drove up to Tatipathy village in Mehbabunagar District of Andhra Pradesh. As we passed the farmlands on our way, small hamlets, and a Masjid a couple of kilometers before we got to what appeared to be the village center, I got a sense of what tough rural life in India is like. There was nothing “Bollywood” about this road trip. When we reached the village center, there was a group of men, presumably farmers or laborers of the village standing around. As we got out of the car, a frail woman in her forties approached. She did the traditional touching of the feet to Professor Harper and the two men from NABARD accompanying us, who all insisted she stop. We had come to talk to her and to hear the story of her husband, Mohammed, a farmer who had committed suicide, which is a common phenomenon in rural India and is blamed on India’s agrarian distress.

We all walked into some sort of community building. Some chairs had been arranged on one side of a small table for us to sit at, and we hastily put one chair on the other side for the lady we had come to meet. It was clearly surprising to her, and to everyone else, that she would be allowed to sit down as well, and we almost had to force her into the chair. .

I had so many questions for her, but at the same time felt at a loss for words because I couldn’t even fathom what her life must be like. I had no idea how her marriage life had been, how her kids are, how she managed before and after her husband killed himself, what her relationship to him was, and to her in-laws and her community, how her community viewed her. I had an endless list of other thoughts and questions and concerns.

We slowly started asking questions; basic ones like when her husband killed himself. Gradually she began to tell us the story. Mohammed hung himself five years ago, in 2002, and as Fatima told the story, tears started to pour out of her eyes. At one point, the village chief or ‘Sarpanch’ walked into the room, and Fatima immediately got up and almost threw herself on the ground; it was unacceptable for her to sit on a chair in his presence. He comfortably took a seat and when we realized that she wouldn’t continue in his presence we asked him to leave. It was only after he left the room, that Fatima continued her desolate story.

Fatima is illiterate, and if she is anything like most women in Indian villages, she probably did not communicate on a regular basis with her husband. She was unaware of the exact amount of her husband’s debt. The story is as follows: Some ten to twelve years ago, Mohammed got a loan from the local primary agricultural co-operative society, or PACS, which is part of India’s massive network of over 100,000 such institutions; they are only co-operatives in name, and are usually dominated by the richer farmers in the local community. Although the loan was distributed between all his family members, because their ancestral land had been divided between them, somehow the repayment burden fell only on Mohammed.

The money was used to dig bore wells for irrigation, but the wells failed. Mohammed then took another loan, this time from a local moneylender, for around 5-6,000 rupees. The PACS had issued Mohammed three notices telling him to repay his loans. The money lender also pressured Mohammed to repay his loans. Although Mohammed prayed regularly at the nearby Masjid, he apparently never discussed his problems within the community, and it appeared that he enjoyed no informal social support. Fatima thinks that it was the third notice he received from the PACS as well as increasing pressure from the moneylender that prompted Mohammed to take the drastic step and end his life.

In 2004 the government started a program to provide compensation for families of farmers who had committed suicide. So three years ago, Fatima received 150,000 rupees. Fifty thousand was used to pay off the PACS loan her husband had taken and the other 100,000 went for the marriage dowry of her eldest daughter. The priority placed on marriage dowry is unbelievable and Fatima described her current burden; her second daughter was ready for marriage but that they did not have enough money for dowry to get her married, a fact that would of course be a blow to their social status.

One of her two sons attends a madrassa in the nearest town, where he gets room and board. The older son works at a restaurant stall in town. Fatima wants him to stay there, as there is no work for him in the village. Fatima herself does daily labor work wherever she can find it—intensive work that pays only fifty rupees a day. A new government program, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) guarantees one hundred days work at eighty rupees a day for every household that wants it. When we asked Fatima why she wasn’t working under this scheme, she told us that she knew about it, but that others in the village told her that it wasn’t for women. This is a typical example of how government schemes do not always reach those that most need them.

Fatima is part of the minority Muslim community in a predominately Hindu village. Now that she is a widow, she is also ostracized for that. This could explain why she cannot get the information she needs to take advantage of the NREGA scheme. When we asked whether she was part of a women’s self-help group, she replied in the positive but admitted it was a newly formed group and she still hadn’t opened up to the group. In the five years since her husband had killed himself, Fatima said she had not really shared the story with anybody. Her in-laws were also of no support to her.

The sad case of Fatima Begum illustrates many of India’s social “ills”. In her story, we see that government programs, though well intended, do not always reach those in need. The combination of her being Muslim and now a widow leads to her being ostracized by the community. The importance of a dowry for her daughters creates financial burdens on Fatima and presumably also for her son who now works outside the village. Her attitude and reaction to the village sarpanch is all too common and demonstrates the caste hierarchy that is ever present in India. It is not clear how she related to her husband, but she was unaware of the exact details of his indebtedness, leading one to believe they probably did not communicate regularly. Her in-laws also played a problematic role, both before and after the death of her husband. This is also common among Indian families. Since Fatima’s son found work in town, she thinks he should just stay there, saying there is no need for him to come back. And finally, Fatima is illiterate. This prevents her from even knowing how much land is registered in her husband’s name, and thus rightfully hers.

India is a country which is often romanticized by people, both from within and out of India for its hospitality, its strong family ties and values, and yet, the story of Fatima Begum is not an uncommon one that resonates throughout rural India.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009


It's been a while since I've read the news, since there's usually nothing good.
I happened to browse a bit today, and it seems like the news went from bad to worse.
Anyway, here's a sad article that should be brought to people's awareness...

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Why can't I just let go?

I woke up this morning with an overwhelming feeling of not being in control. WHAT am I trying so hard to be in control of? WHY can’t I let go, and simply be? HOW do I get over whatever it is that is consuming my thoughts and feelings?

I had a funny dream last night; a lot was going on. I don’t remember all the details, but for once I could make sense of my dream, and I knew exactly what each thing and what each person represented based on how I feel and what is going on in my life currently. It’s nothing profound and if I told you the dream, I’m sure you’d come to the same conclusions.

But now the question is, how do I wake up so I feel rejuvenated not drained? Why does my body ache when I get up?

I need to get out of this feeling I feel so trapped in.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

"On the World" -Rumi

The world is a mountain
Whatever you say, good or bad, it will echo it back to you
Don't say I sang nicely and mountain echoed an ugly voice…
That is not possible

The human intellect is a place where hesitation and uncertainty take root
There is no way to overcome this hesitation…except by falling in love

To reach the sea and be happy with a jug water is a waste
The sea that has pearls…
And a hundred thousand other precious things.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

The world we live in...

This might leave you feeling depressed ...
But, the hope that never leaves the family is quite inspiring
This short film won the Berlin International Film Festival in 2006.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Easter in London, Christmas in Delhi

I had been wanting to see St. Paul’s Cathedral in London for a while, so decided to go to an Easter service. It was quiet, kind of somber, and not very lively. In no way did the service resemble the Christmas mass I attended in Delhi, but for some reason yesterday, I couldn’t help but smile as I thought of Christmas in Delhi. In India, everything has a way of turning into a festive spectacle.

The video is what was going on outside the church…
(jingle bells in hindi…for non-hindi speakers)
Enjoy… :)

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

"They say watch what you ask for,
Cause you might receive
But if you ask me tomorrow,
I'd say the same thing"

-India Arie

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The Piano's place in the Orchestra

When Mozart composed his concerto, number 13, the piano did not know that this concerto was a piano concerto featuring the piano. While the orchestra filled the music chamber with its beautiful melodies, harmonies, moods, tensions, and music, the piano simply listened, unsure of its place in what seemed like a world that it was both a part of and at the same time separate.

It took a while for the piano to find its voice, but when it did, it came out distinct. At first, the piano was always running, always doing, always trying, always striving, always reaching, not slowing down, not reflecting, not wanting to get left behind. It moved to its own beat and its own tempo, because it was an instrument of its own, and Mozart had intended that it be unique, set apart from the rest.

Then after some time, it slowed down. After all, why was the piano always on the go? What was so urgent that it didn’t have time to slow down and reflect? With whom was the piano competing? The piano realized that it didn’t need to compete with anyone or anything. It could move to its own beat, and pause and run as it wanted. It was free and the song was for the piano! It had to learn humility, but not compromise itself in the process.

There were times when the piano synchronized with one instrument, then two. It found companions. Other times, the piano faded out completely, allowing other instruments to thrive, recognizing and appreciating their beauty. The piano reflected, admired, synchronized, harmonized. It selflessly provided the background music for others but at times, took center stage and showed the world its light, while the orchestra served as the backdrop.

The piano was energetic, hopeful, busy, but learned to reflect, appreciate, and live. It was an instrument different from the others, but yet learned to live and play in a way to allow its beauty and the beauty of others to shine.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Saturday, 7 March 2009


This morning I was at the gym and in walked a sickly thin girl (this is the second time I’ve seen her).
She headed straight for the treadmill and put it on a steep incline setting and began her intense power walk workout that lasted longer than the time I stayed at the gym. Her tights, which commonly hug the skin on most people that wear them, were loose (significantly loose) on her. She had on headphones and was reading a magazine, one my friend later described as “freaky”. It’s almost too cliché to say she was reading a beauty magazine, but that’s what it was.
It’s been a while since I’ve come across someone with an eating disorder and even though I don’t know her, there was something so sad about seeing her.
I think it’s sad on a lot of levels:

1. The fact that someone can become so obsessed with their looks or weight, but for who? Why can’t people be happy with who they are? I know it’s definitely easier said than done…
But whoever you’re trying to impress is clearly not worth THAT
2. Maybe she doesn’t have anyone to tell her she’s pretty or unique or whatever it is that reassures people about themselves?
3. The fact that the media bombards people with images of “beautiful”, skinny people and makes people believe that unless they fit into some arbitrary narrow beauty allotment (I can’t think of the word), then they won’t be happy, or pretty or whatever..
4. The fact that our world is so confused. Some people are starving because they have no choice and would do anything for food. And then some people feel the need to starve themselves despite the abundance of food around them.

After my workout and before starting my history paper, I was scoping out BBC news to see what’s going on in the world and came across a quote by a young Sudanese girl:
“It is very kind to send us food, but this is Africa and we are used to being hungry. What I ask is that you please take the guns away from the people who are killing us” -Aisha

-Well on my wait out of the gym, I tried making eye contact so I could at least smile, if nothing else, and maybe strike up a conversation the next time I see her, but she didn’t look up.

I was also googling anorexia when I got back and found this:
Lack of food deprives the body of essential protein and prevents the normal metabolism of fat, resulting in:
* An irregular heartbeat that can lead to heart failure and death
* Dehydration
* Kidney stone formation and kidney failure
* Weakness because of muscle wasting
* Constipation
* Growth of fine downy hair on the face and arms
* Lack of calcium, which may cause osteoporosis
* Interrupted or no periods

Sad and scary…

Saturday, 28 February 2009

The Paradox of Life

"The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain" -Khalil Gibran

How can two seemingly opposite emotions reside simultaneously within a person? If a person is filled with sorrow, how can joy possibly be experienced, and likewise if a someone is brimming with joy, where is there room for sorrow?

But of course, life is filled with great woe and extreme ecstasy as well as the rest of the spectrum. And without sorrow, would we even know what joy is? Surely, we must experience despair, hurt, anguish to know, appreciate, and live the bliss.

It's a bittersweet thought, but then again, so is life.

Monday, 23 February 2009

simply amazing

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Jumping on the random bandwagon

1. 25 is too unrandom of a number for a random list of things, so i'll stop this list when i run out of things to say.

2. when it's kind of cold out, but not freezing cold out and i put on gloves, my hands tickle.

3. i'm not technically a vegetarian, but i don't like the thought of eating meat, so i usually don't.

4. I don't know how "cool" is defined, but i'm pretty sure all my siblings fit the definition.

5. Sometimes I think I have an overeating disorder, although since I've moved to london, it's gotten slightly better, but really i think I eat a lot (ask my family)

6. Sometimes I worry about what my life will be like "in the future", but then I realize what's the point in worrying... Just let life happen like it's supposed to

7. I like to crunch on the seeds in grapes.

8. I am grateful for the few constant friends I have in my life.

9. I like to feel special on my birthday, but I don't like being the center of attention.

10. Sometimes, big groups of people make me nervous

11. Snowflakes are beautiful and I think there is something miraculous about them.

12. I think so much of what governs our thoughts and actions is arbitrary.

13. There are a few things I would change about myself, but one is that I would be able to sing (well and in tune.)

14. I LOVE singing along to songs I know (probably to the disappointment of those who have to listen to me)

15. I really don't know what all the hype is about junk food. I think good for you food is quite tasty and keeps you healthy and active

16. When it rains in london (which is does pretty often), I look forward to all the cool-looking umbrellas people carry around.

17. I want to paint a picture of umbrellas

18. I don't think London's weather is as bad as people think it is.

19. I love the movie Amelie. I think she's my role model.

20. I wish I could concentrate better. I think I have slight ADD.
21. I love chapsticks and lip glosses and I usually misplace them in a pocket or purse and buy more. Sometimes I rediscover a lost chapstick 2 years later and it's exciting.

22. I definitely am the kind of person who will laugh out loud about something that happened days or years ago.

23. I waste a lot of time and wish I could be more efficient.

24. I daydream a lot.

25. I recently read somewhere that jealousy is a waste of an emotion. I love that thought.

26. I hit 25 and need to keep going, so that I break out the "25 list" box

27. By breaking out of the "25 box", I feel like I'm being an individual, but by blogging and making this list, I know I'm so not. This reminds me of the structure of feeling concept that came out of "The long revolution" I had to read for lit class. I'm sure no one knows or cares about what I'm taking about, except my classmates, and I'm pretty sure they're not reading this.

28. I love stargazing and I don't get to do enough of it in London.

29. I want to see the northern lights.

30. From my experiences with people, I think Americans get unfairly stereotyped as wasteful and ignorant. Some truly are, but so are a lot of non-Americans. And some of the most conscious people I know are Americans.

31. I don't like the concept of nationalism.

32. I could actually keep this list going for much longer, but for your sake and mine, I'll stop..

33. I'm sure I'll spend the next hour, or day, or week thinking of things that I should have put on this list. oh well..

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Do things ever change?

How typical is it for people in their early 20s and/or college students to be so idealistic about the world and their place in it. And equally, how characteristic is it for those same people to graduate and almost instantly turn jaded? Why is it that people feel so helpless thinking they won’t actually be able to make a difference? Why is it that in campus coffeeshops and sociology classes problems seemed big, but solutions tangible? And why at the encounter of one or two setbacks, those once idealistic people think that they were just naïve, young college kids who had yet to experience the so-called “real world”.

I speak for myself here as well as for many of my peers. We would attend meetings, learn about issues in class, and discuss with each other global conflicts and social problems. I saw the realities of US public school education on a Native American reservation right out of college, and then I went to India and saw the agrarian problems farmers had to face, despite India’s “booming” economy. A few other instances dealing with bureaucracy and the NGO culture left me feeling jaded and thinking that so few people care enough to take the little steps to make society a little better and develop our humanity that I thought “forget the big stuff, it’s a lost cause”.

What about these experiences left me so blind to the fact that change can and does happen?

In my current Literature and Culture class, taught by the intense Dr. Shamoon Zamir, from King’s College, we have been reading parts of The Long Revolution by Raymond Williams. I might understand the book better after I write my essay, (which is what I should probably be working on now) but the main message I’m hearing from Williams is that we live in a world that is and has been going through a democratic, industrial, and cultural revolution, a genuine revolution, that changes people and institutions and is impacted by the actions of people who oppose the status quo.

He introduces the idea of the ‘structure of feeling’, which I take to mean the embedded cultural norms we embody. He says we are often not even aware of our cultural norms until they are disrupted. It’s like a fish in water doesn’t realize the water until it is removed from the water. So, often any form of cultural production is a repeat of the structure of feeling. It is rare to break out of the structure of feeling and one example he provides is that of the socialist movement, who often seem to revolt against capitalism, but do so on the terms of capitalism. So, for example, when unions get together and demand higher wages, they are demanding something that feeds the capitalist structure, when perhaps they should be lobbying against the work they have to do, or the fact that they need such unions in place to protect their rights.

I know the above example relates to change somehow, but I can’t quite articulate it. Regardless, there are such clear indications of change. The fact that I (a woman and of color) attended University of Illinois and am working towards a masters program, without any stigma is something that not too long ago would not have been possible. The fact that Barack Obama is the president should be sufficient proof to demonstrate that things do change.

So what if people are often motivated by economic incentives? People will drive less when gas prices become exorbitant or only turn off their lights when they are paying for their bills. Well, at least it’s something to motivate people. So what if people do things to join the trend? At least it is the trend. Millions of people who turn up to protest a war indicate concern and not apathy and that in and of itself should provide hope that people do care. As Williams says, it’s a long revolution, not just a revolution…

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Vegetarian quotes

It’s so fitting that I keep finding funny vegetarian quotes..

(i’m not technically a vegetarian, though people confuse me to be one)

..perhaps rightfully so..


* I’m not a vegetarian because I love animals. I’m a vegetarian because I hate plants. -A. Whitney Brown

*Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are good is like expecting the bull not to charge you because you are a vegetarian.

Monday, 2 February 2009

How much do the 'petty' things in life really matter?

I’m not trying to say that hardships or frustrations are by any means petty, just that maybe some perspective would help…

There are over 6,800,000,000 people on this planet, and that number grows almost by the second. (Compliments of this cool website that updates the world population.

Our planet is 1 of 8 in our solar system.

Our sun, the nearest star, in our galaxy is 93 million miles away (It would take a space shuttle 7 months to fly there)

Our sun is one of over 200 billion stars in the milkyway galaxy.

That means there are many solar systems just in our galaxy.

Our galaxy alone is almost unfathomable. Pictures of the milkyway show our sun as a tiny dot and our planet is not even recognizable.

The Hubble Space Telescope estimates that there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe.

So what does all this mean?

It means that our universe might be infinitely large. No one really knows the extent of the universe.

I can’t help but feel small (not unimportant, just small..)

And I can’t help but wonder what else is out there and what our purpose here is..

It’s as if we are tiny specks in this infinite universe..

I wonder how our world would be different if everyone gazed up at the night sky once in a while. Would people really get as upset over little things? Would people still frantically hurry places? Would people really need that new pair of shoes? Would they still get upset if a friend didn’t call?

What about all the devastating events that occur in our world?

All the ethnic conflicts, the land conflicts, the exchange of oil for weapons that allows a people to be massacred..

A quote from the (Iranian) astronaut comes to mind:

“If people can see Earth from up here, see it without those borders, see it without any differences in race or religion, they would have a completely different perspective. Because when you see it from that angle, you cannot think of your home or your country. All you can see is one Earth…”

- Anousheh Ansari

I put her nationality in parentheses for a reason… (perhaps I shouldn’t have even included it..)

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Non-violent Resistence. Doesn't this sound familiar?

SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies) hosted a panel discussion about the recent crisis in Gaza and the launch of the global movement of non-violent resistance. Panel members included Professor Tariq Ramadan, author Karen Armstrong, and Councillor Salma Yacoub. SOAS has also been the catalyst for student activism in the UK regarding the Gaza crisis!

Here is the website for the global movement:
It's a new website so it's not complete yet..

Professor Tariq spoke of the movement as a global movement with local initiatives and highlighted 7 principles of the movement: 1. This is not a religious conflict, but a political one. 2. There is an oppressor (the state of Israel) and an oppressed people. 3. When you are oppressed, your resistance is legitimate, and T. Ramadan says this must be a non-violent resistance. 4. It is the right of the Palestinians to get a state. 5. There should be equal rights within the state. 6. There must be the right to return. 7. The criticism towards Israel is a criticism towards all racism. Crtique of Israel is not being anti-semitic!!

I was inspired by all three speakers and will share some of the highlights of the talk/discussion.

* This crisis is presented to us as a war, but it is not a war between 2 armies. It is a massacre where civilians are dying. This is not a matter of the past 3 weeks, but of an ongoing struggle, where the Palestinians have been under a blockade for years.

* The facts speak for themselves. Knowing the facts is sometimes enough to support the Palestinians. November 4, 2008, Israel was the first to break the truce, not Hammas. 6 Palestinians were killed in this attack, after which Hammas retaliated. Click the history link of the above website for more facts. (And look at the map of the land from the 1947 to today in the photo gallery)

* We cannot have a selective approach to justice. This goes for world leaders and for Muslims -secular or not. Many world leaders will speak out and condemn human injustices worldwide, but remain silent about Palestine. Similarly, Muslim often speak out only about the Palestinian cause, forgetting Darfur, Burma (to name just 2). All human injustices are important.

* Karen Armstrong spoke about the common perception that religion is the cause of violence. It is important to remember that this is not a religious conflict but a political one and that religion has an important role to play. The ethic of compassion that is intrinsic in so many religious cultures needs to be brought to the forefront.

* She told the story of Rabbi Hillel who was to stand on one leg and recite the fundamentals of the torah. He recited the golden rule (Do unto others what you would want them to do unto you), and everything else is commentary.
Many major faiths and non-religious people will agree that this value is common to all people and in this dangerously polarized world in which we live, we are still pulled together by our shared values.

* Salma Yacoub spoke of how this is not a new conflict. 7000 Palestinians have died in the past 5 years, and near 1400 just recently. But this recent conflict has been a shock to the world and to Israel itself, who did not expect the global resistence it has faced.

* It is not only the silence of other governments, but their compliance that has allowed the massacre to happen.

* Hammas was democratically elected through a clean and fair election. And yet, they are always prefixed with words such as militant. Saudi Arabia and Egypt (the second largest recipient of US foreign aid) are dictator governments that the US supports. Does someone else see the blatant hypocrisy here?!

* This conflict must also be engaged by Christians and other groups to depolarize the debate from being a Jewish-Muslim one, because that is not what it is.

* Tariq Ramadan ended by stating, "Anti-semitism is Anti-Islamic, by definition"
So to all those that think that criticizing Israel is anti-semitic are WRONG. Islam is not anti-semitic. In fact history has shown that Jews have sought refuge in Islamic empires (Ottoman, Medieval Spain) from persecution.

This crisis is not new, nor is it unlike former freedom struggles. The one that immediately comes to mind is the South African Apartheid. Students and activists were key players in organizing and bringing about change. Leaders of countries operate with a particular agenda but the people of those countries can and should stand up for the truth. It wasn't too long ago that Nelson Mandela was called a terrorist by Margaret Thatcher, but the people knew and protested and engaged in non-violent movements...
Why can't the same happen again?