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{August 4, 2013}   On sharing afataaris

For those of my readers who are not familiar with Ramzan and our culture, Ramzan is the month during which Muslims Fast for their Creator and Benefactor, Allah. A fast means abstaining from basic necessities of life such as food, water, intimate companionship of spouses, etc, from dawn to dusk, while dedicating the entire day & night to the worship of Allah. The rewards and sins multiply during this month.

(Which is perhaps why you see so many Muslims regain practice of their beliefs with renewed zeal during the holy month, even if they don’t fulfill daily requirements during the rest of the year. We Muslims, btw, are encouraged to encourage this return to faith of sorts, of less practicing Muslims brethren – who knows this might be the turning point for someone to continue with the routine s/he develops during Ramzan).

Anyway, similarly, during this holy month, Muslims mingle a little more with their neighbors as compared to other months. This mingling, among other cultural practices, usually includes exchanging aftaaris (the meal which one has upon the breaking of the fast – even a khujoor (date) and a glass of water can be counted as aftaari). [This post will not be touching upon the commercial aspect of Aftaari buffets and all that have become the norm of the modern society].

Over the years, this practice of exchanging aftaaris has evolved into an elaborate ritual, a cultural must, and so, unfortunately, is beginning to lose its essence. People feel it is an obligation to send out aftaaris on pre-numbered fasts (such as on the 10th Roza/fast, or on one of the major nights of the last ten days, and so on). They go through quite a bit of unnecessary trouble to prepare lavish platters, often in a bid to outdo other neighbors. Some families also have the culture of waiting till the last or so Roza to send out aftaari platters that gives them the opportunity to outshine the rest of the muhalla (neighborhood). I have even come across elders who seem to feel relieved that they did their share of sharing aftaaris at least once during the month.

This is something that has bugged me a lot for several years. This is where I am reminded of taking inspiration from the “There is no obligation in religion” bit. At the core of this message is the fact that Islam believes in invitation to itself, an encouragement toward Islam, while at the same time it instructs tolerance of other religions. [I would highly recommend people to look up the meanings of words such as ‘invitation’, ‘encouragement’, ‘instructs’, ‘tolerate/tolerance’ etc in dictionaries]. And to those who embrace Islam, Islam is lenient in that it encourages the following of whatever is feasibly possible (so while it is obligatory for a Muslim to perform Hajj at least once during his/her lifetime, Allah will understand if the man/woman could not have afforded the pilgrimage; similarly, it is obligatory to pray 5 times each day or fast each year, but with allowances/ease for life’s tolls).

Today was the 25th Roza (fast), and upon the receipt of a platter of aftaari items from a neighbor, my mother commented on the ease of sharing aftaaris that people nowadays had developed. She said something to the effect of, “How easy it is these days for people to send out aftaaris; all they simply do is get snacks (samosas, pakoras, jalebis, etc) from snack shops, spill a few of each item on a plate, and send it out to neighbors. How smart.” – to those of us who have experienced Ramzan since childhood, we understood that her implication was that gone are the days when people used to sit down and prepare all these items at home, and cater to a larger muhalla (neighborhood).

I couldn’t stop myself any longer, and I’m glad I didn’t. I commented back with this message:
Islam does not tell you to do this as part of your fasting ritual. Islam merely encourages that one keep one’s neighbor in mind, a value that is applicable to all 12 months of the year (Hadith available), not just Ramzan, like people have made a necessity out of the same which they now can’t imagine life without. And our elders tried to inculcate in us this value of caring for thy neighbor, by demonstrating it as a ritual (which if you note, was not something restricted to the holy month of Ramzan alone), mostly because they could afford it on so many levels: food items were less costly a generation or two ago; more families were based on a joint family system & less women used to be employed on full time jobs outside the house and thus there were more hands to prepare seemingly more lavish aftaari platters; these were, again, easier to distribute because of the presence of more male hands in the joint family who could manage the distribution once back from offices. However, our elders perhaps didn’t educate us well enough – the purpose of this practice of theirs was to demonstrate that one must want for one’s brethren/society what one wishes for himself (Hadith available), which is why they teamed up to prepare home-made aftaar platters (meals as well in some cases). Our elders truly ‘shared’ with neighbors, from what they had prepared for the family at home, rather than preparing something, (whether less or more), separately for them.

The point being that Islam instructs and encourages caring for the people who you live amongst, teamwork if you must, and caring for them goes beyond ensuring that you sent out the annual platter and yours was one of the best: it means being aware of whether your neighbor has had a decent meal before his family retires for the night or not, be it Ramzan or any other day of the year; it means being inclusive of the whole society; it means wanting for one’s neighbor what one wants for oneself – the entire routine points towards strengthening of societies. In this regards, sending out food acts as an ice breaker of relationship building.

And what do we do? We turn it all into a competition: a competition of what we ‘managed/got away with’ with the least bit of inconvenience to ourselves, a competition of doing something because others expect it of us, a competition of whose platter was the best, a competition of who sent out the first platter of the month, and a competition of who sent out the most platters each Ramzan.

Ramzan is a month that helps you picture & taste the ideal Islamic life. And the ideal level of justice that we would be doing to Ramzan is by understanding the reasons behind instructed way of life, and slowly and gradually adopting good practices from the month’s routine, for the rest of our lives.

At the end of my short comment (the explanation was not required at the table because of obvious group dynamics :p), my mother, and other family members on the table, were first taken aback to a very tiny extent (understandable because these lessons perhaps jumped a generation), but understood and agreed with silent nods.
I hope my friends who read this, will too. And more than that, I hope I can live up to my own positive understanding of life and my religion of choice.

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I just had to share the following piece of writing by a Rape Victim who survived to truly live the next 32 years.
Note: I have added stuff where I felt was the need, in “[]”. Stuff in bold is something I endorse.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

After being raped, I was wounded; My honour was not.
-Sohaila Abdulali

Sohaila Abdulali

Sohaila Abdulali

“When I fought to live that night, I hardly knew what I was fighting for. A male friend and I had gone for a walk up a mountain near my home. Four armed men caught us and made us climb to a secluded spot, where they raped me for several hours, and beat both of us. They argued among themselves about whether or not to kill us, and finally let us go.

At 17, I was just a child. Life rewarded me richly for surviving. I stumbled home, wounded and traumatized, to a fabulous family. With them on my side, so much came my way. I found true love. I wrote books. I saw a kangaroo in the wild. I caught buses and missed trains. I had a shining child. The century changed. My first gray hair appeared.

Too many others will never experience that. They will not see that it gets better, that the day comes when one incident is no longer the central focus of your life. One day you find you are no longer looking behind you, expecting every group of men to attack. One day you wind a scarf around your throat without having a flashback to being choked. One day you are not frightened anymore.

Rape is horrible. But it is not horrible for all the reasons that have been drilled into the heads of Indian women. It is horrible because you are violated, you are scared, someone else takes control of your body and hurts you in the most intimate way. It is not horrible because you lose your “virtue.” It is not horrible because your father and your brother are dishonored. I reject the notion that my virtue is located in my vagina, just as I reject the notion that men’s brains are in their genitals.

If we take honor out of the equation, rape will still be horrible, but it will be a personal, and not a societal, horror. We will be able to give women [or men] who have been assaulted what they truly need: not a load of rubbish about how they should feel guilty or ashamed, but empathy for going through a terrible trauma [just like any other trauma, such as robbery, accident, illness, earthquake, etc].

The week after I was attacked, I heard the story of a woman who was raped in a nearby suburb. She came home, went into the kitchen, set herself on fire and died. The person who told me the story was full of admiration for her selflessness in preserving her husband’s honor. Thanks to my parents, I never did understand this.

The law has to provide real penalties for rapists and protection for victims, but only families and communities can provide this empathy and support. How will a teenager participate in the prosecution of her rapist if her family isn’t behind her? How will a wife charge her assailant if her husband thinks the attack was more of an affront to him than a violation of her?

At 17, I thought the scariest thing that could happen in my life was being hurt and humiliated in such a painful way. At 49, I know I was wrong: the scariest thing is imagining my 11-year-old child being hurt and humiliated. Not because of my family’s honor, but because she trusts the world and it is infinitely painful to think of her losing that trust. When I look back, it is not the 17-year-old me I want to comfort, but my parents. They had the job of picking up the pieces.

This is where our work lies, with those of us who are raising the next generation. It lies in teaching our sons and daughters to become liberated, respectful adults who know that men who hurt women are making a choice, and will be punished.

When I was 17, I could not have imagined thousands of people marching against rape in India, as we have seen these past few weeks. And yet there is still work to be done. We have spent generations constructing elaborate systems of patriarchy, caste and social and sexual inequality that allow abuse to flourish. But rape is not inevitable, like the weather. We need to shelve all the gibberish about honor and virtue and did-she-lead-him-on and could-he-help-himself. We need to put responsibility where it lies: on men who violate women, and on all of us who let them get away with it while we point accusing fingers at their victims.”

– Sohaila Abdulali.



“Marina Abramović, “Rhythm 0,” 1974

Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović is best known for her performance pieces, in which she tries to explore what is possible for an artist to do in the name of art. Her best known piece was the recent “The Artist Is Present,” in which she sat motionless for 736.5 hours over the course of three months, inviting visitors to sit opposite her and make eye contact for as long as they wanted. So many people began spontaneously crying across from her that blogs and Facebook groups were set up for those people. 

Her bravest piece, however, is my favorite. This piece was primarily a trust exercise, in which she told viewers she would not move for six hours no matter what they did to her. She placed 72 objects one could use in pleasing or destructive ways, ranging from flowers and a feather boa to a knife and a loaded pistol, on a table near her and invited the viewers to use them on her however they wanted. 

Initially, Abramović said, viewers were peaceful and timid, but it escalated to violence quickly. “The experience I learned was that … if you leave decision to the public, you can be killed… I felt really violated: they cut my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head, and another took it away. It created an aggressive atmosphere. After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the public. Everyone ran away, escaping an actual confrontation.”

This piece revealed something terrible about humanity, similar to what Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment or Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiment, both of which also proved how readily people will harm one another under unusual circumstances. 

This performance showed just how easy it is to dehumanize a person who doesn’t fight back, and is particularly powerful because it defies what we think we know about ourselves. I’m certain the no one reading this believes the people around him/her capable of doing such things to another human being, but this performance proves otherwise.”

Source: Facebook Sharing



{January 31, 2013}   on death. and all her friends

people shut up about you once you’re dead. out of respect. respect that you dont need anymore. because you’re dead. and are no more a threat to anyone, in any way. people are such dumb fucks. people suck the life out of life



{August 19, 2012}   to be continued…

This post has been inspired by quite a few incidents, both in real life, as well as in stories I’ve read or heard about or seen in pieces of fiction based on real life. It addresses several issues, such as the insensitive double standards of women, especially those in the conservative (read backwards) setting of our culture, or the irrational expectations people (in general) have from other people (read every single person they come into contact with). Read the rest of this entry »



et cetera
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