In Sacrifice is Abundance

Pilgrims in prayer around the Ka'aba

Pilgrims in prayer around the Ka’aba during Hajj

Sacrifice is a motif for many people in this world. It is recurrent, an almost indispensable part of their lives in which progress is preceded and many a times succeeded by sacrificing things that one holds closely to the heart. A father quelling dreams in favour of his child is common, so is the selfless sacrifice of a mother who goes through the 9 month ordeal to deliver a new life.

When pursuing education in one’s land is difficult, more difficult is the choice of leaving the comforts of a house. The knowledge of benefits is not hidden, but the fruits are still not ripe for a mind to comprehend. The benefits of a sacrifice are the fruits, but only the best of men have the courage to sow the seeds.

Verily, one of the best of those men was Prophet Abraham. He did not agree to sacrifice seeking the material benefit of a fruit, rather he was the obedient creation who did what was asked of him by his creator. His agreeing to give up Ismail (AS; Ishmael) at the command of the Almighty is one of the greatest testaments to the literal test of faith – submission to the Almighty.

It was not a test that merely entailed trivial jubilation from the father, but the eventual slaughter of a sheep in place of his son is where the blessing for the whole Ummah lies – the celebration of Eid ul Adha.

In sacrifice there has been abundance, not just for the valiant father and son in Islam, but for every Muslim who testifies the Shahadah and takes cognizance of its meaning in full. Very few of us on even fewer occasions understand the context and story behind the feast that fills our dining tables on the blessed day of Eid.
It is not something to be ashamed of anymore if we stop for a moment and try to understand the stories of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and ones who came before and after him. It’s certainly not embarrassing if we devour on delicious Eid meals till our hands have extended out to the poor with the meat of sacrificed livestock.

The first 10 days of the month of Dhul Hijjah have been blessed. The events that fill these days are witnessed by the entire world, the most significant of them being the pilgrimage of Hajj. The pilgrimage is not a sacrifice any less. Many Muslims wait for their turn in for years and often save every penny from scratch to finance this journey to Makkah. The sacrifice of hair is just one of them in the wider scheme of sacrifices – leaving the comforts of their abode, the luxuries of personal life to interact with the communal congregation and sacrificing the certainties of travel for a greater journey of the spirit and heart.

Yet, this too is not a sacrifice in vain. It is a sacrifice that adds another pillar to one’s faith, that propels the believer to the soil of Madinah and the hills of Arafat so that his prayers are responded to, that transports him to the largest congregation in this world where the rich and poor brush against each other to defeat the devil of racial differences. In this sacrifice, as we see again, is abundance.

While we can strive make the lesser sacrifice of sleep to prostrate to our creator, we can hope to seek a fraction of the blessing that Prophet Abrahim received that night. That night, when he woke up from sleep to sacrifice something far more beloved than sleep, that night when God willed something else to be sacrificed so that in it we find our abundance.

Advertisements

Half The Faith

The office building I once interned in houses state of the art serviced offices, bedecked with the functional yet chic elements to create an environment that makes work fun and easy. It’s tall height is dwarfed by the gigantic Burj Khalifa that stands bang opposite to it like its big daddy. My story, however, does not revolve around the times when we feel larger than life, rather when our vanity goes down with prostration to the giver of life.  The building has a prayer room just big enough for a few Muslims to practice their daily prayers on time and in between the office hours. It is during during these times that I always met Shafi-ul-Islam – a young, soft spoken man from Bangladesh.

He seldom prayed with the congregation and would studiously stand by the sides of the abolution (washing) area and wipe the water that had splashed onto the seat. To ensure that the washing area was clean before the next group of men used it, he would swipe the floor even if it meant that the men had to patiently wait. When the meticulous yet repetitive and seemingly boring ordeal was over, he always had time for a smile and words of greeting. Even as I finished praying and wore my shoes preparing to leave, I would always notice him stand in an alert position with the mop by his side in one hand as if he’d made it his friend. There was something awkward about him standing this way, smiling and waiting for me to leave every single time. I then realized that he waited for me to leave so that he could continue swiping the water from the floor without splashing it on me. I was once late for prayer and found only myself and him in the prayer hall. He was in the middle of his prayer and I remember thinking to myself that he must have finally arrived at his optimum-tidiness and separated from his mop for a few minutes.

There is great emphasis on maintaining cleanliness and keeping the prayer area free from impurities. This discipline is something that I noticed even in the mosques in India – a country not particularly reputed for its sanitation and waste-disposing facilities. This order and spruceness is not made possible by waving a magic wand, but by the efforts of the brush, the hands that guide it and the man who is determined to guide his hands to task. Some volunteer to the job occasionally, while others are hired to dedicate their services in helping the worshipers in attaining half the faith. It was sometimes embarrassing to come across these ‘cleaners’ in the mosques of India. Embarrassing because many of them were frail and old, rigorously scrubbing the floor while I left the mosque having prayed with the age and comfort on my side.

We live in a time when parents pass on values to their children and teachers impart morals in the guise of stories. We have at least have lived in moments well before our ‘mistakes’ and ‘experiences’ could get the sobriquet of being a teacher. Stories and scriptures that emphasized the importance of cleanliness, for instance, is something I remember from school days. My parents explained the significance of cleanliness in the Islamic faith and philosophy with the popular axiom – “cleanliness is half the faith.”

On another occasion, my teacher shared the story of a stained window that led to the viewer’s perception that her neighbour’s clothes on the clothesline were perpetually soiled. The folly does not always lie in one’s character, but the frame of reference, the window of perception that one uses to know and understand a fellow being. Dirt, in this story of the stained window, was not the literal impurity welcomed with soap and water, but rather it is an unlikely hero that rose from the dust to provide wisdom. It’s the philosophical process of scrubbing your attitude and cleansing it off the stains of judgement and prejudice.

What I chose to portray through my encounter with Shafi-ul-Islam is a path where literal cleanliness intersects with philosophical purity. A nexus where faith meets morals and values. Had there not been people who volunteer to get their hands dirty, practicing a religion which is particular about cleanliness would become a challenge and most worshipers would look only after themselves in their endeavour to reach the desired level of tidiness.

It is men like the one in my story who don’t just take on the onus of such community service, but also give us the opportunity to scrub our thoughts clean of ignorance and appreciate small things. It helps us to philosophically cleanse the tiny window through which we try to view a world which in actuality is much larger than our lives spent in vanity. Many times, we are too engrossed in the faith and forget to dedicate a thought or two to those who facilitate its practice.  If cleanliness is half the faith, then indeed, Shafi-ul-Islam is a humble, smiling face of that faith.

Shafi-ul-Islam – He smiles wider than in the picture

When Thoughts Took Off

airportTwo weeks ago, I was stranded at the Jakarta Airport for almost a day with an unconfirmed ticket. Along with the flights going full, there was my mind willing to squeeze one thought after another with a willingness to process observations. I’ve read and heard of people making the most of their experiences at airport and taking to pen and paper to immortalize the moments. Of the most notable, certainly, is Alain De Botton’s ‘The Art of Travel.”

Here are a few thoughts that kept my mind occupied at the airport despite my eye-lids failing me often –

1 – I understood why many people celebrate the success of an expedition with a travel partner. While travelling is a fun and adventurous experience that keeps you occupied, some circumstances eventually make you realise that man’s happiness is a reflection of the company he shares. A traveler’s misery can reduce greatly if accompanied by a trusted comrade who shares the discomforts in times of uncertainty.

2 – I understood the wisdom in the Islamic teaching of giving Zakat (alms) to a traveler to help him/her financially. This charity can be addressed to both Muslims or non-Muslims. While a man may live a comfortable life with community support back in home, he could face unforeseen difficulties during travel. Though a man would like to flow like the stream, he may be forced to remain stagnant like the pebbles underneath. The reasons could be many – the traveller may have prepared for limited number of days with limited money, the currency he carries – though abundant – may not be accepted for exchange, he may have been robbed during travel and so on. Act of kindness is not affixed to national priorities to help fellow citizens, rather it lies in your heart which understands a traveler in need as a brother in humanity.

3 – When there’s a technical glitch in an aircraft mid-air, the pilot does not lose his cool and manhandle the control. That’s an option that would not make it to the pilot’s conscience and common sense, leave alone a manual book. A passenger is no less a pilot in ensuring a smooth travel for his co-travellers. Either a traveller could be peeved with a  situation to the point of making the discomfit contagious, or he / she could empathize with the situational demands and cooperate with those who work to rectify the issues. During the testing times at the airport, I came across a bunch of crass, rude, loud and indecent passengers who faced the same situation as me and others. Their uncivil behaviour with the staff of the airline suggested that travel methods of the modern world have failed to command their respect and dignity for the humankind. With the fear of stereotyping, I couldn’t help but wish that such people be limited to their ancestral vehicles marked by camels and horses. Even then, I wondered if an unsettled camel would have to be at the receiving end of their ire and whimsical nature. When you lack a travel companion to comfort you, it helps to adopt all your co-passengers and staff as if their comfort depends on the words that leave your tongue.

4 – Economic  differentiation does not fail you anywhere, including the airports. Passengers are divided into Economy, Business or the First Class, and with the new schemes of Frequent Flyer Programmes (FPPs) – into Platinum, Gold and Silver. We have internalized differentiation based on wealth, and are never surprised when we are not necessarily treated the same as our co-passenger.

My stay at the airport has to it a poignant build up of some unfortunate events in the history of civil aviation. And another fact – as real as economic discrimination –  stares us in our faces. However rich we may be as an individual and as a traveller, and how so every the airline’s services may have favoured our clout, an unfortunate accident would leave us as a trivial residue in the same debris that constitutes every other passenger – be it from the Economy, Business or the First Class.

Maybe the best of human values can be applied every day, in or outside the airport. After all, the most celebrated of all travels, is the journey of life.

Thank You UNESCO, friends in Bali, and that passenger who cancelled his flight

Rafting on the Ayung River

Rafting on the Ayung River

I suffer from massive post-Bali blues as I write this post. For someone who’s recent past has been marked with minimal activity, the period between the 20th and 30th of August, 2014 will certainly be one of the memorable times spent in some useful activity.

Writing on the learnings from the Asia Pacific Youth Training in Media & Civic Participation which was followed by the Global Media Forum in Bali would require a separate post altogether. This post is a gratitude to the people I met and interacted with at Bali, members of UNESCO, and as the title suggests, a passenger who indirectly helped me reach home.

Up until this training programme, UNESCO to me was a subject of a few articles I read, part of college notes in the last semester and a twitter handle I followed. I had, however, read about its goals in development of societies and recognition of cultures. This training programme gave me a first hand experience of its ability to gather admirable youngsters from various parts of the world on a common platform for exchange of ideas and experiences. Any university could do that, but it is UNESCO’s ambition to put youth at the forefront of substantial work that justifies its heavy investment in a programme of this kind. Thank you Charaf, Mikel, Ailsa and others from UNESCO for giving me this opportunity, and also Niwa and Iman of the Young Future Leaders group for tirelessly taking sessions during the training.

Working for the Youth Newsroom was an awesome experience, and I extend my gratitude to the editors who worked on my articles. I also thank Nick, Mr. Michele Zaccheo and Mr. Noel Boivin for supervising our efforts.

People are becoming increasingly mobile these days and very few live in a bubble. If the young are set to become ‘global’ citizens of tomorrow, their success depends greatly on the kind of people they meet and interact with who don’t belong to their countries. During this programme, I met people from more than 20 different countries. While I could not spend enough time interacting with each representative equally, I would like to thank them simply for representing their nation at the platform. Your stories have helped me and others build a reservoir of information about places we have not visited so far. Some youngsters are already inspirational and have dome great work in the field of development. I would like to thank everyone for sharing their work with us and giving us a lead on what could be reproduced back home to address local challenges.

I would like to particularly thank the host participants from Indonesia who played their part in upholding their country’s hospitality and kindness. Honestly, I’m not sure if Indians would go far into gifting souvenirs to their guests. You guys are certainly the future and I hope the next time I come to Indonesia, I meet at least some of you again.

I spent a lot of time with some great desi (a world usually used for Indians and Pakistanis) friends. Meeting, interacting and spending time with those lads from Pakistan, I honestly feel sad for those millions of people from India and Pakistan who have never interacted with each other, and worse, wish that an interaction never takes place. The only way forward for a peaceful world is greater tolerance between the two different countries who are rich in culture, tradition and history – things that they ironically share with each other to a great extent. While politicians from our respective countries spill vile at each other, UNESCO could be at the forefront of insulating the youth from such hatred and providing a common ground for interaction and brotherhood.

Lastly, I would like to thank the passenger, who I obviously have no clue of, for cancelling his ticket for Emirates Airlines flight 357 from Jakarta to Dubai. After being stranded at the Airport, I could replace the passenger on the flight and finally head home while flights flew full capacity.

Thank you all, once again. Hope all of you are back home safely and resuming from where you left before this training programme.

 

A Cake Called India

India Independence

India celebrated its 67 years of Independence from British colonialism on 15th August, 2014

Fresh out of the oven, my country India always leaves an aroma of stories that can be discussed and reflected upon forever. It is the most eclectically flavoured cake, with 1.2 billion candles poised on it with their part of the story. But alas, this cake is not the sweetest to bite into. Especially not in areas where 180 million candles  prop up, weak, and their flames dimmed to virtual darkness. It’s a cake wherein the cream carries the strongest flame, often dwarfing what remains of the weaker ones. Their clout gets them to re-ignite their wick in times of momentary despair, distracting the decorator from the others who live with flimsily for ages. It’s a cake, the crumbs of which are never picked up from the floor. Instead, birthday hats and ribbons join it to fight against the science of decomposition.

It’s a cake on which the candles multiply at a rate that rings ominous with the limited ingredients in it. Sadly, not all candles are placed to equal height. Some claim to have been from an elite packet and are entitled to a bigger space on the cake, not realising that their greed has been witnessed by other confectionery shops. It’s a cake which witnesses, from time to time, the extinguishing of many flames – just as they had been prolifically born. The reasons are too many to cite – some could not yield enough from the batter, some had accidentally tripped over the surface due to the chef’s carelessness.

The mantle of melancholy is borne by one certain group of candles who have known to the be producers of fresh candles. They are subservient to the whims of the chef, often losing their shine & dignity to stray pieces of wax in areas not well lit.  It’s a cake that carries a stigma of not being able to handle tiffs between two groups of candles for centuries. A certain group complains of the other carrying a shade of green in their flame, while they themselves have been accused of imposing their tinge of saffron on the rest. It’s a tussle that follows into the mouth of the consumer, often leaving a bad taste and needless to say – memories. History has seen some portions of the cake burnt, leaving a narrative of exclusion and intolerance.

But there’s a reason why the many candles have drawn the attention of every other confectionery delight to this one cake. It is a cake that has been baked with tender hands, fighting the oppression of imported ingredients that did not blend well with the cake mix. The light that some candles emanate with their skill and diligence is a topic hotly discussed in kitchens, restaurants and plates around the globe. Often, the signature dish of chefs is marked by candles from this cake – their positions high in the rank of importance. Despite the hypocrisy of many, there are stories of candles being united only by the belief in their ability to banish darkness and overlook trivial differences.

The candles that constitute the middle portion of the cake and also its core struggle to make ends meet, but their philosophies are often sweetened with emphasis on honesty, integrity, humility and wisdom. They remind the ones around them never to forget the first humble slice of cake they feasted on, the efforts that went into baking that part and the forks that felt short on the table. It is this middle portion that often reminds others not to be lured by the fluffiness on other sides, and be content with the chef decided for them. When pursuing their dream to immigrate to other cakes, the candles carry the crumbs of their parents and teachers and strive to shine brighter on cakes that host them.

The lives of some carry perpetual sacrifice, selflessly dedicating their years of shine for a sparkling future of the young ones. The candles enjoy some freedoms that others yearn to achieve, the ability to elect their chef lies in their genesis while others melt away dreaming of it.  This cake can also easily be regarded as the most celebratory one, offering itself to hundreds of festivals and moments of joy.

It’s a cake, the recipe of which is too convoluted for a passive observer, and too commanding for a cynic. It’s a recipe that stands as a special contribution to literature itself. It is a cake that has stood the test of time, temperature and the impulse of the mouths to feed.

It’s a cake where a few may get to be the cream, but every candle is an icing in one way or the other.

A very happy birthday, India. And let’s not cut this cake, for we have been splitting it in pieces for far too many years.

How To Do An ISIS in 10 Easy Steps

1 – Leave your job, family, society and civilization to put on the most heinous avatar for yourself. It is said that a man’s sincerity appears on his face and so does his dishonesty. If you’re ISIS, you need to go an extra mile to make Shakti Kapoor look like a sevak for women empowerment and Amrish Puri an advocate of human rights. You can look upto Lady Gaga for hideous outfits but everything needs to be black.

2 – Pick out each and every individual around you who isn’t like you, that includes birthmarks on the linings of one’s throat.

3 – Pick out anyone who belongs to a minority group. Doing a quick survey of Liverpool fans in India may help.

4 – Ask the minority to change their sides, or pay tax or die – as simple as that sounds. The side you represent seems like the terrorist group in Counter Strike, not a religion. The tax they could have paid has already been ransacked by you. Dying is not an option anymore because you must have already killed them by the time  I finish this sentence.

5 – Be on a hunt for areas of power-vacuum in the region. Observe areas where people have stopped listening to Rahul Dravid and are excited about the Sri Lankan Cricket team. Verily, those are the ones who have gone astray and it is your duty to stop their transgression.

6 – Raise a flag with a religious inscription on it that shows your mojo and not necessarily your belief. Gun down anyone who doesn’t wave at you while you’re touring the new land that you have captured.

7 – Involve your children in massacre and instead of them holding candies with #IsntaCute, #InstaBaby, #Adowable as their digital memory, immortalize their end of childhood with severed heads in their hands and sign off with ‘That’s my boy! #ISISocute!’

8 – Eliminate everyone who believes in something that you don’t. Because that’s what you did with sanity anyway.

9 – Release your frustration of lowliness, childhood sexual abuse and bickering from boss on people you have never interacted with, save for when they were pleading for you to not sever their heads.

10 – Revive a centuries old phenomenon as a straitjacket solution to all current problems of people similar to you. As your head, have someone who looks like a creepy antagonist right out of an Agatha Christie book. Burn that book because there is no other book is to be read than the one you do.

Honestly, after all this, it’s clear that you’ve either not read the book, or you’ve understood it as well as Rebecca Black understood music.

How One TV Show from Pakistan Trumps Its Indian Counterparts

Sanam Saeed and Fawad Khan play Kashaf and Zaroon in Zindagi Gulzar Hai

Disclaimers :

1 – This post is not to fan any Indo-Pak rivalry. Our politicians do a fine job at it, so let’s keep that task to them. Also, cricket. (I’m an Indian, by the way)

2 – This post is not to be belittle any art form. It is just my humble opinion on how this TV show from Pakistan is like fresh air amidst the stale offerings on TV

3 – I have watched quite a few TV drama shows, both from the sets of Pakistan and India. I watched Pakistani shows before the one I write about in this post

Zindagi Gulzar Hai is a soap opera from Pakistan. The story, though carries various narratives running simultaneously, revolves around an ambitious girl from the lower-middle class economic strata of Pakistani society – Kashaf Murtaza. Her struggle in a patriarchal society driven by capitalist elites is a recurrent motif of the show.

While the show (the description of which I have withheld to avoid spoilers) could draw similarities to some Indian TV shows, here are some reasons why Zindagi Gulzar Hai trumps all Indian drama shows :

1. Zindagi Gulzar Hai is 26 odd episodes long with each  episode running for a little over 40 minutes each. The reasons for such a short-lived show could be many – budget constraints could be one of them. But this means that the directors and writers have little time to dilly-dally with and have to come up with the best art of story telling within the short span. Indian TV shows have a tendency to stretch for years and in some hazardous cases, generations. This leads to the shows going on tangents that contribute nothing to the soul of the story and frustrate the audience.

2.   It is possible that Pakistan Television industry lacks technology and editing know-how to add visual impact. If that’s the case, there couldn’t be a better blessing in disguise. Zindagi Gulzar Hai is devoid of flashy editing, abnormal use of zoom-in lens and other such production and post-production treatment of scenes that exists in Indian television to give obscure outputs to the viewers (like a word echoing 3 times, a face flashed 4 times or the camera zeroing on an actor from 5  different angles.) This show relies heavily on story, script, dialogues, acting, scene environment, and other tools to communicate effectively with its audience and deliver a compelling story. This is what an average audience look for, and Indian television has rendered them confused at best, and visually impaired at worst.

3. Being a girl in a patriarchal society in this show gives us a more holistic understanding of the challenges. Unlike Indian shows, the perils that come with being a girl child are not reserved to dowry, marriage and some stray incidences of perverts creating mischief in the neighborhood. This show will teach you that it’s also about making the difficult choice of investing limited money in a girl child’s education, the uncertainty of one’s future, the extra-pressure faced without a father’s protection,  and then, of course, the challenges of trusting men after having gone through bad experiences.

4.  Kashaf reminds the Indian audience that falling in love is not a cost-less and a compulsively rosy affair. When you belong to a family struggling to buy ingredients for the next meal, cooking romance is not easy to consider. Indian shows, on the other hand, have a knack for propagating love stories that begin and flourish as easy as spreading a rumour on Whatsapp.

5. Expression of love in Zindagi Gulzar Hai does not involve featuring newly released Bollywood songs in its full length. It looks like demonstration of love in a TV serial in a conservative society like that of Pakistan makes it more exciting and genuine. There is heavy reliance on dialogues that try to poetically communicate  love, and it seems to embrace the characters and audience in a comforting manner and much less a cliche’d one. Expression of love in Indian TV shows these days falls flat due to an identity crisis – it’s not a cartoon show that can be devoid of it, nor is it a feature film that ought to give love & romance prominent screen time. What we get in between is a soup that leaves the taster confused.

6. Expression of poverty and economic struggle in the house of Kashaf Murtaza is not just arranging money to celebrate a festival or for dowry. Getting peeved over electricity bills, increasing prices of vegetables, making the difficult choice of when to prepare non-veg food are things that most middle class citizens of both Pakistan and India can relate to very well. Economically, there’s a lot that bothers a middle-class individual that Indian TV shows have failed to capture. The set up of a chawl with women lined up to collect water in buckets is just one aspect.  

7. Weddings in Indian TV shows go on for weeks as the central theme for all those episodes, much to a viewer’s irritation for utter wastage of time. In a show like Zindagi Gulzar Hai, weddings barely get screen time. This shows that the purpose for ‘weddings’ as a medium for sub-plot and story is not ‘how the wedding is’, rather – “what the weddings MEANS to the plot and characters.” Sometimes it is this crucial difference that helps a viewer continue watching the show or divorce from it.

8. The clash between Kashaf Murtaza and Zaroon Junaid gives a near realistic portrayal of the friction between lower and higher economic classes respectively. Unlike Indian TV shows, it isn’t just about a glittering Mercedes or Ray Ban shades from chor bazaar or the lack of it, it’s about apathetic attitudes towards each other’s socio-economic contexts and the lives that two seemingly different individuals live  – both in their minds and homes. Seldom does Zaroon Junaid’s wealth take the form of excess material display and the audience still manages to receive this comment on Pakistan society.

9. This show does not introduce a plethora of characters and roles, unlike Indian TV shows who have introductions, re-introductions, and re-re-introduction of unnecessary and irrelevant characters. The few characters in Zindagi Gulzar hai all have an important role to play in the wider scheme of the story which results in a capsule of 26 episodes with great acting.

10. It’s rare for the mother of a protagonist to give a performance as compelling as the protagonist, if not more. The mother of Kashaf in Zindagi Gulzar Hai makes the audience cringe when she sighs and laments at the difficulties she goes through in making ends meet. At the same time, like most ‘realistic’ mothers raising children, she tries her best (through acting and dialogues, not editing or background sound) to hide her emotions from their daughters lest she distressed them with her grief.

11. Lastly, since the show ends on a brief yet powerful run, the viewer who started watching the show ends with consuming the message from the programme in its full. Zindagi Gulzar Hai, in particular, is dotted with melancholic narratives of people struggling with money, family, society, and often with their own-selves. It’s conclusion, however, is marked with optimism and replaces the air of uncertainty and doubt that started with the show and followed throughout with that of  positive spirit and content.

When I Thought The Imam Erred

Imam leading the congregation of worshipers

Imam leading a congregation of worshipers

I wonder what to explain of the last 10 nights of Ramadan, whether as a countdown to commencement of Eid, or to the end of Ramadan. It depends on whether your heart will be stricken with a gentle grief of bidding adieu to the most blessed month of the year, or welcome celebrations of feast and joy as your gift for giving up earthly desires.

A similar choice of perspective occurred in my mind on the last night of Ramadan for several years.

As a background – Muslims are encouraged to begin and complete the recitation of the Holy Qur’an in the month, apart from the daily recitations that are prescribed.  Imams (the one who leads the player in the mosque) begin their recitation from memory in prayers and continue it in extended prayers in the evenings. In the last 10 Ramadans the prayers are also performed in the depths of night.

Memorizing the entire book in its Arabic language is undoubtedly a feat, and there’s little surprise that the ones who perfect this to memory with practice adding their touch of mesmerizing reading techniques get the sobriquet of leading hundreds and thousands of worshipers behind them. Just for the numbers – there are about 6236 verses that span a total of 114 chapters in the book to memorize.

However great a merit that is to the Imams, I was convinced for a long time the Imam of the mosque I visited for night prayers in Ramadan had got his calculations wrong. Instead of ending the last night with the last chapter of the book, he always overshot the number of chapters recited, unable to match it with the number of rounds (Rakat) of prayers at night. Such that when it was the last round of prayer on the last night of Ramadan, he failed to end perfectly on the 114th chapter, and instead began the first chapter of the Qur’an – in a way starting the Qur’an again. It’s obviously no big deal, but for someone who would like the Imam’s calculation to be as spellbinding as his recitation, I concluded that the Imam had made an error.

It’s not before I seriously gave this seeming error a thought. How would a man who has committed a voluminous book to memory repeat the same mistake over so many Ramadans? Truly, there was wisdom to be derived which I hope, in all my humility, I did.

The Imam’s deliberate attempt to mismatch the number of verses with the round of prayers was his way of welcoming the next Ramadan. By starting the first verses of the book, he tries to spill the blessings of that night into the one that we would have to wait for another year. It is a reminder from the learned leader of the congregation that there’s very little to be content from this year of Ramadan and that we should always hope we get to welcome the next one with as much dedication, if not more. It also seems to be like passing the baton to us of sorts, that the Imam has completed the Qur’an that he was entrusted with, and now it’s our responsibility to continue reading the book throughout the remainder of the year . The Imam has helped us start the first few verses, so we may respect it and continue it from there the very next day and continue till the next holy month where we are reminded of what the Imam left us with, again.

If there is a kernel of doubt in our minds about Ramadan being more than just giving up food, water and other desires, then banish them. For surely, there are things beyond what the stomach can digest that leaves us in deep thoughts and introspection, much like these moments when I thought the Imam erred.

Armchair Cleric

Mac

In an article I read in one of the dailies, I noticed another instance of capitalism making inroads into religion. While I don’t wish to be seen as a wannabe doomsayer, it could help to caution at the sight of bad idea germinating in someone’s mind. While instances of Ramadan becoming commercial are rife, these views came from ‘clerics’ in the region.

It was opined that working hours during Ramadan need not be reduced for those who work from enclosed offices as they are in an environment conducive to longer time of work even in fasting conditions (Islamic countries have reduced working hours for Muslims and Non-Muslims alike during the holy month). Clerics said productivity during Ramadan instead increases during the month, and the physical toil of salaried employees in offices was far less in comparison to the wage earners who work in the open. The article also carried financial figures to indicate the loss in revenue due to reduced hours.

While their justification may be right, and pointing out the exertion of outdoor workers to be more certainly is, they have missed one of the essential reasons for reduced hours. Infusing the articles with numerical measurement of loss accrued to organisation gets my frustration first, and then some sympathy if there’s any left.

One of the wisdoms for reduced hours of working during the month is that Muslims can spend more time in prayer and worship, or rest during the time to prepare for prayers they may be involved later in the day.

Working for the organisation’s goals is a commitment one lives by almost throughout the year and providing for some private and spiritual time for a month every year may in fact work in the organisation’s favour. Spiritually rejuvenated employee can hit the ground running by the end of Ramadan. Ramadan also is an opportunity to iron out the creases that blemish ones personality and an employee who makes the most of the extra time off can become a better team member.

The importance of strongly objecting to any ideas of regular times during Ramadan is to ensure that the clout of such clerical thought does not materialize into reality. It is not naive to say that anything lucrative and ‘profitable’ meets little resistance and is always ready to be implemented.

There are some things money cannot and should not buy. Some extra time spent in worship is certainly one of them.

Packaging Ramadan – ‘The Stream’ discussion on Al Jazeera on commercialism in Ramadan – (7:00 has my video comment on air and 13:10 carries my tweet discussion by the panel of the show)

 

 

The Perfect Internship

I agree that I do get easily moved by kind gesture, and many times I find myself recollecting some things for longer than its impact on my life. But a month long internship experience that I had during my college is something that I fondly recollect even after a year of its completion. The  images of those days at internship flash in my mind  these days since I am on a hunt for job openings. And to begin with an allegation, the Perfect Relations office in Mumbai should be held guilty for a grave offence.

Or let me spare the other departments in the office and focus my allegation towards the Digital PR team that I was a part of as an intern. This was a closely-knit team with an energetic spirit. They may have come from different walks of life with varied experiences, and maybe the only common string between them may have been that all of them braved the horrendous travel ordeal in Mumbai to arrive at office. The ones to be charged with the offence me go by these names – Nicole, Purva, Yuvraj, Ankit, Vishal, Tanvi, and Sushant. Amit Sir can be let off with minor charges as he graced our college once as a guest lecturer to redeem himself. And I request for the severest punishment for Urvashi for reasons too many to  mention. (Surnames have been withheld to protect their reputation.)

Their offence – providing me with the best internship experience a student could have asked for and spoiling me to such a degree that I cannot imagine a better work environment than the one they created for a stranger like me.

The background of the internship is as important as the internship itself. This was a phase when I, like other students from college, was on a relentless quest to get the first industry internship. So much was the desperation that I was mentally prepared to make-do with even an average opportunity or less. Turned out that landing up with this internship (for which Urvashi had been instrumental; but she should still be charged) was not the only lucky thing to have happened, my luck would introduce me to some of the best people I have come across.

I was a studious observer of their ability to strike a great balance between work and fun, the success at each supplementing the other. While I came across admirable professionals who knew their job well and worked to excel at what they do, I also witnessed their vibrant side marked by friendly banter and mutual care. Tracking the social media meant that each of them had come across a hilarious meme or some ridiculous activity by the Indian users of social media. Loud laughters were interspersed with pronounced silence as they went about their way in getting their work done, possibly driven by individual aims of earning for their families or progressing in the industry. They weren’t all too consumed by their work or incessantly bogged down by the pressures of work load. They always made time to inquire if the interns were comfortable, often advising me to leave office early and visit a doctor when my blocked nose made me sound like a breathless toad. Taking work from them was more like helping them in playing a sport rather than sharing burden. They greatly appreciated the little work I could do as an intern, and even today I would say that what I did for the team fell way short of what I gathered from their affection.

In a city like Mumbai. there are difficulties posed by travelling in local trains, harsh weather, rampant crime, cramped spaces and people at times literally trampling over you. I believe part of what keeps a Mumbaikar going is the mutual effort of colleagues and friends in ensuring that the hours of work in the office leave them refreshed and energised for the fresh set of challenges on their way home. While work can be very stressful at times, it can be diluted with some helping hands with genuine care in the well-being of each other. Looking at the positive attitude of the team, I would often feel bad myself for not being able to match with their enthusiasm in life and at work.

Any cynic, including the one in myself, would joke that this sounds like some PR move for a PR agency. Disregarding the poor joke, this post is less about the organisation than its ability to attract such great people into their work ethic. Or maybe it’s the ability of the current employees in the team in bringing out the best in an otherwise less enthused member joining them. I wouldn’t know if this culture that I grew fond of runs beyond the Digital PR team and is all pervasive in the organisation. But this is something I wish every young, aspiring communications person comes across. The level of respect amongst the team members is exemplary and something that needs to be cultivated in a world which is marked by arrogance and harmful slander. Being in the midst of a team like this one would compensate for the headaches of surviving in a chaotic and help sport a strong mind and a gentle heart – both at work and outside. In this respect, to use a PR jargon, this agency has certainly gathered some ‘earned’ PR.

Beyond a few tricks of the trade, what I learnt from the internship was that it is, after all, human beings that make up a workplace.  All goals at work, though translated into statements and monetary figures, are met with ultimately to make some other beings happy who have a stake in the goal. And while financial incentives may bring delight towards the end of the month and carry on for a few days, humans are innocent beings that absorb happiness at an given moment. Nothing is more frightening than the fear of grief. The rattling of the keyboard keys in the office will always be dwarfed by the crackling laughter of employees. A sharp mind at work will always need a tender heart to deal with individuals. And many times, the most expensive meal bought from ones salary may fall short of the gratification one receives from sharing a meal with a great team.

And while I am yet to experience the former, I can boast about having lunch with a bunch of people who, possibly without their knowing, left me with some food for thought.

The Parting Gift

My parting gift from the team at the end of my internship