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20 December, 2014

Air of Sadness - On the Peshawar School Massacre

(On 16th December 2014, a group of terrorists stormed into a school in Peshawar and killed 100+ kids)

The air of sadness has dispersed thousand of miles from the crime scene.  The innocent woes that the sky of Peshawar witnessed have left me heart broken and restless oceans away. I can feel the kids searching for their mothers’ fort. So many dreams collapsed in a matter of minutes.  So many candles have been put off by a murderous gust. So many flowers have withered before blossoming. To those who lost their kids in this incident; I cannot say that I understand your pain, but I tried. It’d be rather unimaginable to swallow the fact that those whom you’ve protected from tiny bugs have succumbed to guns and bombs.  I tried, I reached my limits, and I cried.  

For those attached to Pakistan, the tragedy shook our hearts, at least most of us. And for those who were not related, the shock and pain was rather momentary. Away from homeland, I’ve been hunting for individuals who are feeling this pain the way I am. And at the same moment, I ask myself, how as humankind, a pain that shook a nation, would be merely news to the others. The global village is still distanced by our nationalistic boundaries, our spiritual definitions and our philosophical rationales.

It’s been a sad day indeed, a sad year. An unfortunate year for the kids; the one who were utilised for their agendas by Boko Haram in Nigeria, the ones who died at the hands of Israeli army in Gaza and now the ones that have been sacrificed for political gains by Taliban in Pakistan. Most of you would be like me, who cannot see anyone getting minutely hurt. But, yet, on our own mother earth, we have creatures in human forms that devour kids. This huge contrast is unsettling and creates an array of questions in my mind.

Bloodshed is everywhere. Any innocent human’s life taken away by mankind’s negative intervention is painful.  How many days of the year do I sit down in silence and ‘be the wounded’. How many moments of my existence do I wonder why were they killed.  And, more importantly how many hours do I spend analysing where do I fit in all of this.

Solace, for me, is rare. I can see murders glorified. I can see genocides justified. I can see the most unfortunate of situations used for political gains. I can see people with no hearts. I can see people with no purpose. I am surrounded by those who feel they are not part of all this; their material war is the only one they’d ever fight. I ask myself different and difficult questions. Which of these battles do I fight? In the mere struggle for livelihood, I do not see a life. I must empathise. I must philosophise. I must act. And this is where I get all foggy. I have to act beyond my selfish goals, but where, when and how much remains unclear. I try, but I am unsettled. Maybe, I’ll be at peace in the morning, thinking I’ve played my part. My little efforts would see enough to me tomorrow. But, then again, there will be another tomorrow, another bloody day, where I would again be restless, and think ‘have I done enough’.

It’s a cycle; the recurrence of which should not diminish its gravity. Every new awakening, every new shock, should make me more selfless. I wish, together we can surpass egocentrism and become geocentric one day. I wish, tomorrow I’ll wake up with all of us having the same pain. It’s rather unimaginable, and impossible; such uniformity might never be. But then, how can an ultimate goal be finitely achievable. Maybe, the goal is to try. Maybe, the goal is to cry. 

06 June, 2014

Life's Mixed Messages

Door closes, and other doors open? Hurdles in the path way, so you find an alternate path? Life catapulting you back to fire you into new horizons? OR Door closing and you got to start over? Hurdles in the path way that you'd have to smash and go through? You're being thrown back into time, and you'd need to make renewed efforts to find your way? Sometimes, if not always, I get mixed messages from what life throws at me.

These mixed messages balance themselves out, causing emptiness in my mind. An emotionless, feeling-less epoch that waits for a clearer message which never arrives. These vacant times switch me into a mode of consciousness, where I feel like freely falling into destiny. I do not feel the need to battle the waves; I do not feel the need to make a point; do not feel the need to make a decision.

I am but a single piece of the puzzle? Where do I fit into the bigger picture? Is the bigger picture going to reveal itself? Or am I myself the maker of the bigger picture? Sometimes if not always, in life, I get mixed messages!

Dear Life, can you make your messages clearer or give me the strength to decode them.

02 June, 2014

Inspecting the practices we are born into - Radio Talk

My interview on a south African Radio Channel (Voice of the Cape).

Topics discussed:

- Qur'an and Prophetic traditions on 'Quest for Truth'
- Social Conditioning : How our lens can blind us? How do we get trapped in filter bubbles?
- How defense mechanisms hinder the quest for truth
- Widening our gaze and adopting radical doubt
- Shunning the habit of judging others and embracing empathy



28 April, 2014

The Psychology of Migraine: Not just another headache

Spring 2002, that’s when it all started. I was in boarding school. Nothing dramatic happened prior to it; no physiological change, no mental trauma, no depressive spell.  It was like every other day, when it seemed like a parasite had woken up from its slumber, in my brain. It started stinging from the inside, and it has been doing so recurrently ever since.

31 December, 2013

One Grand Retraction

Writing it out, that has been my way of organizing my thoughts. I have been doing that for over a decade now. I have been writing for magazines, newspapers, websites and blogs, until recently, when I abruptly stopped. My primary objective has always been to make sense of my life and help people in making sense of their lives. It was not just writing. I have been delivering lectures, teaching books, making videos, developing software, compiling poems, debating, counselling, writing emails etc. I was deeply involved and ecstatic.

At the back end of this enormous output was a very immersive effort. I was deep diving into books, listening to lectures, attending seminars, watching documentaries, contemplating and praying. I have been sincere. Although, I have been very equivocal of what I believed to be right, I have always been critical of my own views. I have retracted several times. I have never been shy of saying ‘I was wrong’. And yet again I want to do the same: ‘I was wrong’. You might have applauded the spirit in my writing, the choice of my words, the clarity of my argument, but many a times ‘I was wrong’. You might have distributed it further, you might have given me a prize for it but many a times ‘I was wrong’. Hence, I save myself the pain of revisiting what I’ve said on any digital or non-digital forum and writing individual retractions to them, I am making do with this one grand retraction.

“There’s more to life than happiness”; for those born in religious societies, this very basic lesson is being taught from early childhood. Unfortunately, this message is appended with a very narrow understanding of what is ‘more’ to life than happiness. A very confined, restricted and unamendable understanding of salvation is indoctrinated into kids from early childhood. Along-side, a very static and stringent moral code is also injected. Critical questioning is given a death blow by discouraging, and stigmatizing it. To question the ‘ultimate truths’ is presented as one humungous sin. So, I religiously adopted the scheme of salvation that was injected into me paternally, socially and culturally, without any need to critically look beyond what is being indoctrinated. I was a blind follower. I subscribed to the long list of ‘moral laws’ presented to me by ‘arguments of authority’.
Then I started challenging what was told to me as ‘ultimate truth’. I realized there are hundreds of versions of ‘truth’ being broadcasted out there with the same amplitude and I could not gulp the fact that I was ‘born lucky’ on the one true path. Then it was a long struggle to find out which version of truth was right. I accepted, tried and rejected several versions of truth. But, I never was able to fully break out of the ‘filter bubbles’. I was ever-changing, but always in quest for a long list of ‘ultimate truths’. With every version of truth that I accepted I was always convinced that I had hit the jackpot of true path to salvation.

I have been precariously zealous; always eager to get the message across and convey what I thought to be right. And after every intellectual jump I was struck by grave regret on what I had been transmitting with so much passion. And when the same thing happened over and over again, I was forced to take a step backward and contemplate. I realized there was something fundamentally wrong with my approach. It was far too narrow. I was looking for a truth that was absolute, static and fully-told. What if truth had never been fully told? What if there were versions and facets of truth still to be explored? May be it’s in the very nature of reality, that it can never be fully-told.

This idea melted all my rigidity and transmuted my constricted understanding of reality. This realization led me on the most treacherous of journeys; the journey of radical doubt, maybe that’s what, makes it holy.  It was no easy leap; it was a leap of faith into restlessness of reason. And I took my time to unlearn the truths that I had absorbed. I took my time to uncondition myself of cultural and social learnings and habituations. Now, that I feel free, I can truly empathize and philosophize. For me 2013 has been about these two words. And I plan to carry on this quest to submerge into versions of truth that have been already told and understand the dynamics of truth. I plan to enhance my ability to empathize with another soul, which requires enormous learning; learning of human mind, human instincts, human conditioning, human body and many more. But, before I go farther from the shore, where I fail to recognize what I was, I wanted to put out this grand retraction, so I can truly make a fresh start.


Note: A little apology to all those who have been sending me emails regarding religious OCD and other related issues. I was not able to reply, I clearly have been quite busy in my mind, as you can see. I plan to be back in February 2014 in a much more organized way. 

08 August, 2013

Muting the Question of Salvation

Salvation, the core question in the ancient religious and non-religious philosophies, was insentiently muted by modern philosophies. Central entities in moral philosophies of the past; cosmos, divine and God, were supplanted by individual conscience in modern philosophy.  Modern philosophy revolutionized the meaning of virtue, and understanding of morality, and left no room for ancient aristocratic views of the stoics, but it left very little room for discussion on salvation. God has been discussed only in the practical context, as in Critique of Pure Reason by Kant, and there is little or no discussion on after-life or death. Modern efforts in philosophizing have reflexively suspended the discourse on overcoming ones primitive fears. Philosophy became a discussion on ethical and moral laws, and has favored the democratic order and peaceful co-existence, but failed to provide any answers to the question of salvation; as Luc Ferry puts:

“Ethical principles, however precious they may be, have no purchase whatsoever on the great existential questions that were formerly taken care of by the doctrines of salvation” (Luc Ferry, 2011: 134)

10 July, 2013

The One Line Preface



Its 610 AC, a man named Muhammad, in the deserts of Arabia claimed to have received a revelation from God. He calls people to that revelation. The revelation continued for 23 years, and it was named as the Quran (the recitation). The revelation was powerful. Now, there are 1.6 billion Muslims on the globe, representing 23 percentage of the world’s population [1], all of them accept Quran to be the verbatim word of God.

After the opening prayer, Quran begins with these lines:

alif-lam-meem
dhālika
l-kitābu
rayba
fīhi
hudan
lil'muttaqīna
Alif Laam Meem

That
(is) the book
no
doubt
in it,
a Guidance
For the Muttaqeen

It may be read as:

-          Alif Laaf meem. That is the book, no doubt. In it, a guidance, for the Muttaqeen.

-          Alif Laaf meem. That is the book; wherein there is no doubt. A guidance, for the Muttaqeen.

P.F. Collier who studies prefaces and prologues of various classics, writes:

“ No part of a book is so intimate as the Preface. Here, after the long labor of the work is over, the author descends from his platform, and speaks with his reader as man to man, disclosing his hopes and fears, seeking sympathy for his difficulties, offering defence or defiance, according to his temper, against the criticisms which he anticipates. It thus happens that a personality which has been veiled by a formal method throughout many chapters, is suddenly seen face to face in the Preface.” [2]


The preface of Quran is unique:

Firstly, the preface was not revealed/ written after the long labor of work. Quran was not revealed in the order of recitation/reading. Quran was revealed in parts, in thousands of fragments, over a period of 23 years, with information on where the particular revelation was to be placed once the Quran takes the form of book. This one line preface was revealed, in rather early days of revelation.

Secondly, the author does not descend from his platform; rather there is grandiosity to the very first words: Alif-Laam-Meem.  The author of the Quran begins with three disjointed letters of Arabic language. Some understand them to be an abbreviation. Some deem them to be acronym. Some speculate that the words numerical values have some hidden meaning. Some believe that these letters are author’s signature that contains a hidden numeric code that runs throughout the Quran. Similar disjointed letters appear before several chapters of Quran. So, the author does not break down his efforts into easy wordings and give readers comfort that this reading is going to be an enjoyable ride. Rather, the message seems opposite. The author is showing the reader that there are things beyond their comprehension. He is not starting with the easy lessons first, but he is starting with the basic lesson first that no matter how hard you try, there will be secrets in this book hidden from your eyes and intellect. You will never fully unravel the mysteries that this book contains. There will always remain an element of unknown, a tinge of mystery to what this book has to say. 

Thirdly, the author does not disclose any hopes or fears. The author does not seek any sympathy for his difficulties. The author says plainly ‘This is the book; there is no doubt in this (information)’ and ‘this is the book, wherein is no doubt’. The author makes the bluntest statement and in doing so shows his supreme command over the language. The author does not reveal/ write any punctuation marks, and engages you in the effort of choosing your pauses. Quran does not declare the need for you to select any one of the meaning that may be derived with various pauses, rather it leaves it to your rationality to decode the massive meanings hidden in one sentences; meanings that multiply with punctuation marks. So, Quran is saying it is a fact, that this is the book (Al-Kitaab), and leaves it there. It does not say outright, what that book is. As you read the Quran, you find numerous references to the book (Al-Kitaab) and when I combine all those references, I feel Quran giving me an image of a collection of books, a bible containing all the testaments, a collection of all that was revealed to human kind from God. And, all that has been revealed, Quran says, are not assumptions, theories, hypotheses, conjectures but are facts and truths. Quran touches the subjects of science, biology, physics, meta-physics, history, pre-history along with many others, and yet, the author of the Quran claims that there is nothing in this book has any element of doubt. 

Fourthly, the author does not bind himself to any stringent methodology in any of the chapters. For instance, the author does not feel the need to introduce himself formally in the preface. He does not feel the need to keep the preface, entirely separate from the chapters. Rather, as one reads the Quran, the reader understands the author more and more. The introduction to the author and the message are interwoven, perhaps, because this introduction of the author is one of the primary messages of the Quran. So, the preface ends: ‘A guidance for the Muttaqeen’. Who are the muttaqeen, is what Quran addresses in the following verses and the tone shifts from being introductory to descriptive, rather swiftly.

Lastly, this one line preface is an introduction to the book, rather than the author of the book. The author chooses to introduce himself through the book. He realizes that it is beyond the capacity of the readers to understand him directly, so he is intriguing the readers to understand him through his message, through his book, the book.

References:
[1] The Global Religious Landscape , A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Major Religious Groups as of 2010 [Web Link : http://www.pewforum.org/global-religious-landscape.aspx]
[2] Prefaces and Prologues. Vol. XXXIX. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14; Bartleby.com, 2001. www.bartleby.com/39/.