Mino Akhtar - A Speaker and civil rights activist in the American Muslim community.



Happy Birthday dearest Amijan

Date posted: March 26, 2017 Comments: 2 comments

Happy Birthday Amijan!
What does the term “mother” conjure up for you, whether your mother is living or passed on? As I was getting ready for my mother’s 88th birthday celebration this past weekend, I paused to reflect on what motherhood means to every human being – isn’t it the ultimate definition of love, patience, pride, sacrifice, generosity and the deepest bond of human connection? And what does my mother (Akhtar Ali Sher Aryne Farooq mean to me?
All mothers define their own brand of motherhood that embellish these universal values in a different way, and they pass it down to their children. When I think back on our lives as a family and her specific role and influence on us, I have to think in chunks and what role my mother played. The chunks were different places we lived in, different phases of our lives, different phases of my kids’ lives and of course later on health events and changes.
In Germany, where we were when I was five years to almost ten years old, I remember how skinny my mother was and yet how strong. She cared for us older three, and had the fourth child in Germany just before we left. I remember the coal hearth in the center of our garden apartment, which she used to put us on after baths, and rub oil into our bodies. I remember her cleaning out the coal every morning as it was used to heat the apartment all night. She always had a love for baking, and in Germany, she got to perfect it and learn many new types of cakes and delicacies. And as sewing was always her passion, she continued to sew our clothes all through the night…I remember her staying up all night to get our Eid clothes ready for the Pakistani Embassy. Her comfort or sleep did not matter, just caring for us.
When we moved back to Pakistan for 2 years, she went back to teaching Montessori, and I remember her getting ready in saris to go to work. It reinforced what my father always preached which was that women should be just as independent and educated as men, although in practice this was far from the case, as the predominant culture still prevailed, and the notion of working women had not entered women’s consciousness anywhere in the world, even the West!
Our next phase- Turkey- was a continuation of the hard-working home maker, although I do remember her playing cards with 3 other couples that my parents were friends with. We would have sleepovers at different homes, and while they played cards, all the kids made sugar cookies, played games, etc. Weekends and holidays were for traveling and adventure- we saw every corner of Turkey, plus Lebanon, Syria, and of course Iran and Pakistan on our road trip back to Karachi. Various relatives and friends visited and stayed with us, and all I remember is her cooking, serving, cleaning, sewing, baking and enjoying it throughout- never complaining a bit! She used to hang our carpets out in the backyard and beat them with a brush, and I remember her enjoying the whole process as if it was a great workout. The only thing she complained about was moving every 3-5 years from country to country.
The next phase was our New York City move, which became our final home, even though my parents and my youngest brother Omar got to live in Brazil for 3 years after our NYC stay of 5 years; my biggest regret is that I did not get to visit them there, but from what my sister Sabah tells me, as she did get to visit, it was a wonderful life, and an amazing country to live in! I also got to know what she doesn’t like -big diplomatic parties at the UN, which was a great bonus for me, as my Dad would take me along to socialize and make new friends! Each sibling learns different things from their parents, and socializing was definitely something I got from my father.
For me, through all those fuzzy memories, what stands out the most is my mother’s selflessness, hard work, and talents like sewing, cooking, even calligraphy which she had taken up in Germany and was a master at and a quiet power, where much was communicated non-verbally. Very rarely would she lose her temper, and the only time I remember is when I refused to learn to cook and instead went out to play tennis- she threw down the kitchen towel and said: how will you ever get married if you don’t know how to cook? When I had my own first child Mona, she flew here from Pakistan, and stayed with me for 6 months helping me adapt to motherhood. Later on, my siblings Sabah and Omar were very helpful with the other kids- Reza, and the twin girls Sheema and Sonia, but the first child is of course the biggest transformation for any family, and I cannot thank her enough for that! When she arrived, NYC had the longest power outage and we were living on the 7th floor of a West Bronx apartment- I remember walking all day all over town while 9 months pregnant with my mother and husband all day just to escape the heat and dark.
And of course for each of us five siblings: I, Sabah, Pasha, Farah and Omar, her influence and role will have been very different. For example, Sabah has been her primary caregiver for over ten years since my mother’s stroke, and that sacrifice and service puts her relationship at a whole different level than for any of us. Amijan also lived with Pasha and family in Karachi after our father’s death and they both dealt with my paternal grandparents’ death soon after my father’s sudden passing. Farah also was in Pakistan while Amijan was there in those days finishing medical school and getting married; and finally Omar was the baby of the family, and even now is the major assistant to Sabah in care giving. I have always observed her special relationships with my kids as they grew up, for she was the main grandparent they know and love, as the other 3 left too soon. Whether it was baking a gingerbread cake or sewing their prom dresses, all those memories shaped their childhood and added beauty and love. Their mutual love and caring is a joy to behold to this day as it touches and spreads to encompass the whole family.
And as they have their own children, I practice what I learned from my mother: making every moment special for them, which makes it even more special for me- I pinch myself that I have the time and energy to enjoy these little beings and to provide some support to their busy parents! So in many ways my mother is a role model for me as a grandmother too!
Happy Birthday Amijan- we are blessed to have you and the light of your presence around us.

Karachi- City of Cool and Chaos

Date posted: February 16, 2017 Comments: 2 comments

My city of birth used to be a sleepy fishing village. My mother told me that its streets were washed every morning, with the fresh smell of water seeping into its desert sands filling the morning air. On my recent visit after 3 years, I observed Karachi’s journey more keenly than ever. On the one hand, the fear of terror and looting that had gripped the city in years past was gone, although phone snatchings continued unabated. I reflected on how many refugees have found open doors here, how many have found new homes, work and just basically survived, most recently Afghan’s and Pashtuns after the Russian invasion followed by the American occupation and bombings of Afghanistan. I appreciated once again the cosmopolitan nature of Karachi, a community of so many communities, from Punjabis and UPites, Dehliwallas, etc. (Indian Muslims who migrated after the bloody partition of India), Memons, Christians, Parsis, and on and on. Like the sea air that breathes freshness into Karachi every evening, these communities continue to grow and flourish in this city of refugees. My husband and I took a tour of Karachi and saw a Memon Mosque, a Christian Church (St. Pat’s), British institutions from the Raj and a Parsi temple. I am sure if the tour would have been longer, we could have seen remnants of ancient Indus Valley civilizations not far from Karachi, Jewish temples, Hindu temples and many other communities.

As a child I spent a few years in Karachi in my strict grandparents house where faith and education ruled the household. At that time, in the 60’s, Karachi seemed to be on the verge of becoming a Paris of the East, another potential Dubai. Excitement was in the air, there was no violence to speak of, business was thriving, women were making great strides and progress in all fields- including my aunt Hafiz Rizwani who excelled in several sports and was in the paper every single day. But those dreams were sunk after superpower politics hit Karachi hard and in a totally unexpected way, making violence a permanent part of this City.

Today Karachi still is the mecca of business enterprises, and business oriented communities are thriving there. I was impressed by the many clubs that our relatives and friends took us to- lovely family oriented clubs with all sorts of facilities in addition to the finest dining and ambiance, from the British era Sindh Club- which felt like one walked back in time to the British Raj, Karachi Club, the modern seaside Golf Club, the Creek Club, the Boat Club surrounded by mangraves- vegetation that lives between sea and fresh water, something I learned from our friends the Jabbars. Cool restaurants and designer boutiques line the fashionable parts of the City, reminding us of the beautiful fusion of the traditional crafts with the creativity of modern globally conscious designers designing for a jetsetter audience. And the bungalows of the rich are amazing and beautiful, soaring above their surrounding walls allowing a peek into their serene interior, where house servants meet your every need and make life just a plain luxury!

What truly impacted me most was that the ancient culture of hospitality, grace and generosity is alive and well, and is taken to its ultimate perfection in my husband’s community – the Punjabi Dehli ke sodagran (meaning Punjabi Merchants of Dehli)- they deserve a whole blog on their own! Every sibling, niece or nephew, cousin, grandniece or grandnephew in our family and all of my husband’s friends from childhood went out of their way to welcome the “American” visitor, uncle/aunt or granduncle/grandaunt! Every meal was a ritual of delightful food, beautiful customs and non-stop serving of the other. I was so touched by the love and the grace I saw and will never forget it! We attended a wedding in my husband’s family, and I was so impressed how the hosts served the in-laws throughout the evening, and then finally, when thousands of guests had gone, they sat down to eat themselves as a family- way past midnight, exhausted and yet having preserved hospitality par excellence.

In contrast, the government and public infrastructure has gone to pieces. I observed an increase in the filth and chaos- broken roads all over, horrible traffic and trash all over the City waiting for the China Pakistan Economic Pact to kick in! Imagine even our own trash collection has to be outsourced. Everyone blames the government for its corruption and inaction, quite the opposite of US where the latest sentiment is to tell the government to do less- after it has done so much for so many for so long! The paradox of the rich Karachi and the poor Karachi intrigued me, as it did when I visited Rio de Janeiro or Bangkok or Cairo so many years ago. Does it always have to be so extreme I wonder? And yet I enjoyed this privilege thoroughly, of being driven by chauffeurs that negotiated the horrible traffic, fended off the street beggars or euneuchs – with their prayers or damnations depending if you gave or not- encircling the car; gates opened by chowkidars, insisting on not letting us even lift a mere shopping bag; meek houseboys and housegirls with their specific appointed duties offering tea/coffee, ironing clothes, preparing baths, cooking, cleaning, babysitting, etc. This is an enticing life I thought, enough to entice the liberal elite to let it be and a corrupt government to not act all. May the material condition of Karachi catch up to its humanity, its peace-loving and progressive population and its spirituality of love. I fell in love with Karachi all over again!

Facebook Fast No.1

Date posted: December 27, 2016 Comments: no comments

Recently I watched a very interesting movie on Netflix- my go-to place for fantastic programming including a lot of interesting series and especially global content, which I delight in! It was actually a documentary called “Minimalism” about two men who abandoned their high-flying lifestyles to live more simply- it’s really well-made, with lots of great scholars and interviews with similar movement leaders. And for me, it named an issue I have been feeling for a long time, which is out of control materialism, and how to counter it by practicing minimalism. What the documentary does is put many facts together that we have heard separately, like how many times each individual checks their phone during the day! Astounding statistics, one after another, and when put together, pretty scary and action generating!

So for me it moved me to action, on a very small scale. What if I did something I have been meaning to do for quite a while: what if I went on a Facebook Fast for a while? I am a Facebook addict, going on it many, many times a day, reading, posting, sharing, commenting, and on and on. No, I have not counted the number of times I do it, or the number of hours I consume and yes, I would miss cute memories, friendversaries, important links and news, updates by family and friends, etc. My family and the social community I belong to loves Facebook, and regularly updates photos from events that very same night and everyone does their obligatory likes, comments, late into the night after the event and sometimes even still at the event! It is so endearing, and yet seems strange.

The reason I am calling it a Facebook Fast is because of the practice of fasting from sunrise to sunset for a month in our faith- Islam. What that teaches you – besides gratitude, patience, empathy, appreciation and love of God- is that abstaining from something is a valuable practice, and when we stop the fast, we come back refreshed and nourished. And as my grand-kids are visiting this week, it will allow me to totally focus on them and be fully present, without worrying about what/when to post on Facebook! I am not sure if I will succeed, and the lure of Facebook will snap me out of my fast- there is no moral or other compunction that will keep me from breaking the fast. Indeed some conversation or other will mention something to Facebook, and I will not be able to control my urge to check it out!

On a sadder note, our best friend Sajjad lost a beloved nephew, Nauman to a massive heart attack, and as I left the burial services yesterday, it made me reflect on life, living, time and value. What do we do with our time on planet earth while we have the chance? Being in this reflective and grieving state only encourages me further to disconnect for a while and see how I can add more value in my own life while I have the time.

Of course, I hope you do read my post on Facebook!

Mino Farooq Akhtar
December 27, 2016

Quiet Joy

Date posted: December 12, 2016 Comments: no comments

img_0001Recently, my uncle Nisar Aryne from Jordan was visiting his son in Connecticut. I called him and told him that I would be visiting my mother Akhtar, his elder sister, over the weekend, and he should come along to be with her. He agreed and we got to Philly and settled into my sister Sabah’s cozy house, where my mother stays. She had a stroke 10 years ago, and is getting weaker in her 80’s as one would expect. However, she is able to walk with her walker, talk on the phone and in person with slight hearing issues only and eat by herself, although we are lucky to have nurses for her for most mealtimes.

As I sat with both of them over breakfast, lunch and dinner, I noticed that there was barely any conversation. At first, I got worried and started falling into a facilitator role – a bad habit from my corporate roles. I started conversations hoping one of them would pick up on it and take it forward! But it didn’t work. So we ate meals together, watched TV together, had tea and snacks, and the hours ticked by until we had to return. In between, nurses would come to help my mother in the morning, afternoon and evening, and even their talk was transactional, e.g. what do you want with your tea? Do you want ice cream? And frankly, the only comment I remember my mother making at one point was: “Nisar, why don’t you put a blanket over your legs? You might get cold”.

I started thinking about my observations and more importantly about my discomfort with silence. Here were a brother and sister seeing each other after many years, and my expectation was that there would be tons of conversation, catching up on each others’ lives, asking questions, reminiscing about their younger lives, about past events, etc.! But for them just sitting and watching TV together, sipping tea or eating a meal, was enough catching up. I began to appreciate the quiet joy that is just there in that silence. And slowly I relaxed into it myself. I started to release all the shoulds I had in my mind about family reunions or gatherings.

I had also brought an Amazon stick so that I could show my mother different programs beyond cable TV, which she watches all day from her armchair. And I would put on a Pakistani song on U-tube, or a drama about the Ottoman empire, or a show about the history of Indian cooking (Raja Rasoi) on Netflix. I did not ask her what she wanted to see, but just kept trying different things. And again I picked up on a pleasure she was feeling – no words again- just a slightly happy and more interested expression on her face as she saw our culture reflected on film in many different ways. I was thrilled and insisted on leaving the stick for her to enjoy, although we would have a challenge in her using the complicated remotes!

My sister called a week later and told me how my mother is enjoying the new variety of programming, and calls her to ask her to put on something or pause it so she can resume later. And I am thrilled to know that her soul was touched and for me to rediscover a new form of communications or non-communications, totally foreign to our social media world. I made a promise to myself to check Facebook and other media less frequently than I do now. It has not worked yet, the automatic reflex keeps going, but I am hoping I can get better at it. Now if only I could talk less at social parties, which I attend too many of!!!!

Oddly enough, today my daughter Sheema called and shared that at Thanksgiving she felt that she could not communicate with my mother, as if there was a barrier. She had this wonderful idea about creating a collage for my mother of her own life through the years. She thought it would be meaningful and would touch her. And I shared my observations with her about recent events. And I was happy that both of us in our own way were learning, or un-learning, our habitual ways of communicating, and creating new ways of connecting and touching souls.

Mino Farooq Akhtar
December 12, 2016

My outrage at race rage

Date posted: November 15, 2016 Comments: no comments

I remember attending an event for Zaytuna College recently, and Sheikh Hamza Yusuf saying that American Muslims owe a big debt and apology to black American Muslims. And I realized how honest and true that statement was. We- immigrants from Middle East and Asia- started coming here in the 60’s and 70’s, benefited through our educational backgrounds and the opportunities here in the US, but never stopped once to build connections and community with the Muslims that were already here, many of whom had reverted to their original faith hundreds of years after being brought here so violently, and treated so violently. And while there is always time to rebuild and heal, it is still a form of racism that has to be acknowledged.

And now as I hear about racist remarks about our outgoing President and First Lady, the latest one from a major in West Virginia about how happy they are that there is finally a “stylish” lady in the White House- how does an uneducated model become stylish compared to the most intelligent and genuine and classy First Lady in decades? The Trump victory had let loose floodgates of hate, and now my feelings of outrage are spilling over at this race rage that won’t leave the American heart.

How could you feel so much hate towards those to whom so much wrong has been done? Where is your love for Christ and how does it translate into love of your fellow human being? Do you not feel any compunction or pangs of conscience for what you have done to African Americans throughout history? Do you even feel anything towards the American Indians who you obliterated to steal their rich lands? What is it in you that harbors so much hate towards a race that you oppressed and ruled and possessed and tortured and even now continue to treat lesser than yourselves? How do policemen armed to the teeth military style get away with saying they were “afraid” of an unarmed black man sitting in a car with his girlfriend and baby daughter? How is that possible? You continue to lecture Germany about the Jewish Holocaust even to this day as more and more movies are spun about the Nazi era, but where is your atonement for your own sins?

Does being great again mean being mean? Do we have to hate and hurt to be great again? And if we look at the Mideast mess, largely created by our own devils in Washington DC, instead of compassion for refugees there is again more hate and fear. How do you fear a family whose homes were wiped out and all they want is food, clothing and shelter? What lack of compassion, what lack of humanity this is.

To my fellow Americans that heal, I say thank you and to my fellow Americans that hate, I hope you find your nobler selves some day soon.

The Healing Begins

Date posted: November 9, 2016 Comments: one comment

As I sat at my dear friend’s Nuzzo and Sajjad Iqbal’s house glued to the TV, my hopes were dashed as state of after state went to Trump. Depression descended on all of us, and our earlier fears of when the Trump campaign returned, with macabre jokes about identity cards, even more open hostility than now, and basically open season on minorities. By 1 am, we finally called it a night, and while unable to sleep lay under our sheets in shock and disbelief. How did this happen? Why did this happen? What does this mean for us, for US, for the world?

This morning I started to crawl out of the tunnel of disbelief, and began to accept and process the new reality. My heart was warmed by so many American friends who reached out to me to tell me not to worry, that most Americans are good people and all that inflammatory rhetoric was just a game to channel justifiable anger. After all, anger needs a scapegoat, otherwise how to channel it? I even listened to Trump’s acceptance speech, and was surprised by the conciliatory note. Who is the real Trump I wondered? And how did he create trust in millions of Americans, not just the disenfranchised ones in the Rust Belt and other places, but even women and minorities- all the pillars we expected to bring Hilary to a victory? Will Americans ever accept a woman leader I wondered?

As a minority woman beneficiary of big city careerism and success, for the first time in my fifty years in this country I began to understand the depth of anger and resentment of people who could or would not evolve with the Knowledge Economy, spawned by our great country of course, as the largest innovator on the planet. I began to feel empathy for the first time for the forgotten majority, and wished that they too could feel the source of abundance and opportunity in this country that I feel, and leave behind resentment and blame on others. Could they, as they would say about inner city minorities, helped themselves more rather than just hoarding anger? Or were they truly helpless and would they need government help to get back on their feet? The post-WWII boom of capitalism and materialism ended suddenly for them, while it grew exponentially for a very tiny minority.

As an American Muslim, I have always felt that I am burdened by a dual identity that I didn’t ask for. I came here as the daughter of a Pakistani diplomat, stayed and married and became American. World events created this new community called American Muslim, which didn’t exist before. And as global wars and terrors – both mutually reinforcing and expanding- clouded humanity’s future, this reluctant identity became an even bigger burden. How am I supposed to be responsible for state and group and individual crimes all around the world, just because they have hijacked my faith, such an individual, personal and private matter? And yet the Trump campaign fueled this fire hurting so many in the process, physically and psychologically.

As an American, I hope we begin the path to understanding and healing together now. Anger, resentment, blame are all negative energies, and we can transform them into actions that move us forward. Let us check our privilege and our ecological footprint, let us think about how much luckier we are than the rest of the world, and let us use the gratitude of this fortune bring us together to help and create a more equitable society. Let us also remember that we are one human family, and loving just our country might seem patriotic, but as the more recent immigrants know, the planet is too fragile to sustain these archaic archetypes of nation states, wars, economic and political manipulations…it is time to write a new unifying charter for humanity.

Your Best Just Got Better and my garage

Date posted: June 26, 2014 Comments: 2 comments

What would a book called “Your Best Just Got Better” (Jason Womack) http://www.amazon.com/Your-Best-Just-Got-Better/dp/1118121988/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1403833254&sr=8-1&keywords=Your+best+just+got+better

which I got from a colleague at a Harvard seminar have to do with my garage, my nemesis…well read on and you will see.  Normally, I do not like “how-to” books…there are too many of them, they take a small idea and write a whole book on a small idea and they don’t challenge the intellect. But I decided it is time to read something, as I felt in a rut about many things.  I said something – even a how-to book- should help. So I started to read it, and enjoyed one small idea the book speaks about instantly: convert big overwhelming problems into 15 minute chunks…think of your day in 15 minute chunks and be prepared to use wasted 15 minutes (e.g. when waiting) to complete other tasks.  Simple, right? Powerful, right? So I told my husband over dinner that I would like to apply this idea to our garage – a perennial big problem in our family. And we did, and it worked.  We got a 4 foot wide path cleaned in the garage, which is good to know in case someone needs to escape in an emergency or something.  It only took 2 15 minute chunks!  Wow, I just got sold on how-to books…and then I realized that as my garage is really in trouble now, I should write an ode to my old garage of 34 years.  I actually made a commitment to park my car in the winter of 2014 in it, so it will have to dramatically transform.  So here is my ode to my dear old garage:

Dear Garage,

As I say goodbye to you after 34 years, I want to appreciate the role you have played for our family.  You have never let me park my car in there, but there were many, many good reasons for that. You were the exchange place for various big and small items from apartments all the way from Lower East Side Manhattan, to Upper East Side Manhattan, to Boston and to Ann Arbor Michigan. You allowed them to bring it, take it, bring it back again, give it to each other.  You also host so many sale items that somehow appear even when they are not needed.  You patiently put up with it, whether it is cases of sodas, oil bottles, bulbs, bird seed, paint cans of all kinds, toys of all kinds, sport items of all kinds, and on and on. You even let us build a closet to hold Pakistani clothes for 4 women, me and my three daughters.  Pakistani clothes for winter, for summer, formal, informal, very, very formal, Pakistani chappals, salimshahi shoes for men and women and kurta sets for the men of the family.  You have kept beds, armoires, dressers, carpets of all kinds, carpet padding of all kinds, bikes of all sizes and items for all seasons from beach stuff to roller blades, ice skates and ski stuff in all sizes from small kids to adults.  It is so amazing what you have done for our family, and we appreciate your role in keeping the family taken care of, even though the fights when we clean you out periodically get quite intense – moods change, anger rises and you suffer the consequences.  Well no more suffering…you will be cleaned out, cars will park there, and now your role will be to enjoy peace in your final days…thank you dear Garage.

Memories of my father Mohammed Farooq

Date posted: June 15, 2014 Comments: 2 comments

My father, the late Mohammed Farooq, left us on November 17, 1982, far too early and suddenly for all of us.  He was only 57 when he got lung complications from heart surgery at Cornell Medical Center, Upper East Side, New York City.  It was a tough time for all of us.  My mother lost a whole chunk of hair on one side of her head from the shock.  I was not myself for several years, even though I had 2 young kids, Mona and Reza, who were 4 and 5 then.  But as our faith commands us, we learn to accept and move on, and as time heals we choose to remember what the departed taught us by their words and action.  Like all memories, they are scattered and mixed up as we are not sure what we heard or what we saw, but we certainly remember what we felt.  My father had this wonderful habit of coming home, usually very late from Manhattan and the various UN meetings for Pakistan Mission, but still taking the time to knock on our doors, smile and ask how the day went, especially our studies. And if something didn’t go right, he would say “keep your chin up”, very British style I must say.  He loved entertaining people, socializing at parties, participating and leading conversations – he was so eloquent, and such an avid reader, and at the same time, he loved adventure. In Turkey, I cannot remember one city that we did not go and see as kids.  Every weekend was picnic time, bridge party time or driving to Beirut, the Paris of the Middle East time and an assortment of beautiful places across all of Anatolia.  We even drove from Germany to Pakistan in 1961.  As Chachajan tells me that was an economic decision, which allowed Abu and Chachajan to save money coming back to Paksitan on our tickets, and provide for all the younger siblings and their retired parents too.  For us, it was adventure time.  I remember I used to read books in the back of the Opel station wagon, and then complain about headaches, and everyone would laugh and say that if you sit backwards to the car’s direction, what else do you expect?  When we left Turkey in 1966, we again drove back through Iran.  I remember times when the driving got dangerous.  In Iran, a sandstorm had covered the road, and we didn’t know where we were going in the desert! In Bulgaria, Communism was taking over, and we had to keep driving without stopping.  I remember the car getting flooded once, and we all had to empty and dry it the next day.  In Iran, I remember a  young boy running a mile into town to get us some fruit, which was not available at the musafirkhana or travelers’ hostel.  We got trained early on in life in appreciating cultures, practices and learning to love nature and landscapes of all kinds, whether forest or desert, mountains or steppe.  And that’s his legacy that I treasure the most, the adventurous spirit with a passion for learning, with an optimistic spirit that was always seeing what is possible.  He did have his dark side, and that was his worries. He worried a lot about many things, and I remember when he listened to sad Saigal songs, my grandmother would chide him. I remember getting up at night one time, and he was sitting with his head in his hands just thinking…that was after he had found out about his heart problem and was waiting for the Pakistani govt to clear his funds for surgery.  But he did that a lot before then too.

That did not mean that he didn’t listen to other music- we had a Grunding in our house which he got from Germany, and his tape collection ranged from Elvis, to Beethoven to Saigal to Scottish music and beyond. And that’s why I love world music, which didn’t even begin to fuse and blend in so many interesting ways as it does now.  At the dinner table, conversations revolved around world politics and art and poetry, especially Urdu poetry.  He insisted we not learn Punjabi, a dialect, but the real Urdu, the language of poetry and of the Mughals.  Nobody would know he was from Punjab, as he spoke beautiful Urdu and was such a lover of that dying language (although I am so grateful that younger generations such as my husband’s niece’s husband Parvaiz Munir is moderating an Urdu Forum!).  I learned at an early age about Ghalib, Zauq and Iqbal, and so many renowned Urdu poets (wish I could remember their names!)He would be horrified that women in Islam is still a conversation in today’s times – he used to say daughters and sons should be educated highly and equally, and he ensured that for all of us.  And he always predicted that unless Pakistan cures corruption, it would not succeed and sadly his premonition came true. It started early in the country’s life, and there is no excuse for it – colonial legacy or not.  He would be even more horrified at the fact that minorities in Pakistan are being attacked – Sir Zafrullah Khan came over to dinner several times to our apt in Queens, and he was a renowned leader, amongst so many others that my father was friends with.  He would not be horrified about all the unjust wars going on though, as he had bitter memories of colonialism in India, and saw it in another guise in the later part of the 20th century, as I do.

I am grateful for his legacy, and I am grateful that I still have Chachajan, my father’s brother (next in line) – both of them were so close like twins.  And to this day we share many lovely memories of my Abuji, as I also do with my siblings, especially Sabah.

What I want my kids and grandkids to know is that Mohammed Farooq was a Punjabi Arain from Julunder, a refugee alongwith many other refugees who escaped to Pakistan and who made himself all by sheer hard work and determination. He studied law at night, while working as a clerk at the Foreign Office. He then rose through the ranks to be assigned to Pakistan Embassy in Germany, CENTO in Turkey, Pakistan Mission in UN and then finally Pakistan Embassy in Brasilia,Brasil.  He had an artistic side and loved to read, and write poetry.  A few years before he died, he had started to write an autobiographic novel.  So much about him inspires me every day.  Thank you God.

Day 5 Petra

Date posted: September 24, 2013 Comments: no comments

My daughters, Sonia and Sheema, and Sonia’s husband Eric were in Jordan it seems ages ago, but was in fact only 4 months ago.  And if there is one vision that continues to symbolize that experience, it was the first step into Petra on Day 5 of our trip.  We had driven to the office of the tour operator, Zaman Tours, in downtown Petra to pick up our tickets.  We then drove closer to the entrance of the ancient city of Petra which is at a much lower level than the modern city of Petra, which is full of houses and apartment buildings on hills surrounding the ancient city of Petra.  As you get off the car, you start to go down a sandy descending pathway and you are approached by men with donkeys, horse-carts, camels, all offering rides down to the site.  We declined and kept walking, and it was just as well. The first vision of the Siq, the entrance to Petra takes one’s breath away.  Like the Grand Canyon in our country, red sandstone rocks beautifully carved by time, sand, wind and water rise above.  Unlike the Grand Canyon, these are much closer together, and show signs of an ancient civilization all along the route, with carvings, caves, figures, carved at different heights leaving the mark of this ancient civilization.  One sees aqueducts all along the wall which was used to carry water into the city of Petra, and we learned that the way the Romans defeated the ancient Nabatheans was by discovering the water source of these aqueducts and stopping all water going into the City.

As one continues, there are many beautiful bends and curves in the Siq until there is another sudden surprise: the Treasury, looming up into the mountain with its beautiful architecture carved directly into the face of the mountain.  I had once watched a program on PBS that the Treasury was built from the top down, which was amazing considering the simple tools people of those ancient times had! No cranes or trucks, no power, no engines, just human effort and ingenuity.  What a contrast to today – often while driving back from the City I see this new building going up in Fort Lee, right across the river from Manhattan, and a giant crane is positioned precariously on its top, and I marvel at this human ingenuity as well.  How does the human brain even think of creating such things and making them work? The Treasury of Petra is the most famous photo of Petra that is shown to potential tourists, but no photo can prepare you for its majesty and wonder!  People just stand there looking up at the carvings and admire the civilization that produced this.  Even while we were there, we heard that continued excavation was going on and more underground structures were discovered right under the Treasury.

I thought that this is probably the peak of our day trip, and was ready to pack up and go back.  Little did I know what else was in store! As we continued to walk for what seemed miles in the desert sun, we came to a great opening of a flat plain surrounded by mountains and caves and paths carved in them. There were Egyptian style tombs, and other types of tombs all around us.   The younger ones hiked up the mountain and took amazing photos of the whole ancient city from a very high point.  We older ones relaxed in a Bedouin tent sipping drinks and I bought some Bedouin jewelry to remember the people by.  With rugged, weather-beaten looks, they live in the open and often one sees their tents and sheep along the highways. In the evenings or hot afternoons, they will sit and sing rhythmic songs.  As we continued, we saw Roman ruins that must have been built later during Roman times, a long colonnade just as in Jarash, with ruins on either side.  We even saw a recent excavation led by a US college, I think it was Boston College!  While the group continued to the Monastery, with its thousand step climb, I decided to just sit and reflect on the beauty, which was already so overwhelming for me. I could not take in any more. I tried to imagine the people who lived here so, so long ago and was grateful that they left some signs for us to contemplate. As the rest of the group returned, we headed back up through the plain, the Siq and up the hill to return to our cars.  My aunt knew the owner of Zaman tours, a proud Bedouin who she called Abu Rashid.  His new house, which he built on the highest hill of Petra, overlooked the modern city of Petra, and even the deep cavernous ruins we had just walked in.  I knew of Arab hospitality and generosity from all my years of growing up in the Middle East, but nothing prepared me for the lunch-time feast of the most amazing Jordanian dishes!  Even though 2 of their daughters were fasting, they continued to serve food and make us feel totally welcome and comfortable – how beautiful that we can still see this most human of values being lived.  It touched my heart and I only wished more fellow Americans knew this about Arabs instead of the media portrayals designed to fuel hate.  Abu Rashid’s family had long ties to this land, and he was so proud of being a Bedouin, of the land and its beauty. Later we found out that his brother-in-law was dying in a hospital; yet he took time to greet us and spend time with us.  As we left their house and headed back to Amman, we were happy to have this be our farewell evening in Amman, as we were flying out the next day. The memories of that afternoon will define the Jordanian character forever for me and my family.

Being a Tribecan

Date posted: August 25, 2013 Comments: one comment

For the last 3 days, I stayed with my daughter who had a baby 5 months ago, and was going back to work.  I was watching her baby Pasha, while she and her husband went to work.  Staying for a few days in Tribeca and watching the melange of people mingling and walking around all hours of morning and night was an awesome experience. First of all, it reminded me of human resilience. As I looked up at the almost completed Freedom Tower, I could not wrap my mind around the horrible fact of what happened on 9/11.  Did tall buildings really tumble down. Yes, I have seen movies and film clips, but did it really happen? It is impossible to even imagine it.  It is hard to feel the pain of all at that great crime in history, and even harder to acknowledge the greater pain our planet is in all around.  Every Muslim country at least seems to be in turmoil and being torn apart with terrible human costs and suffering, leaving us as sad, resigned spectators unable to do anything to help and change this course of history.

And yet, twelve years later, Tribeca is thriving all around, peaceful and full of energy.  I also thought back to the fight for what some called “Ground Zero Mosque” many years later, and how our family went down practically every day to help the mosque fight for its existence and its overarching message of peace and contribution. It was not to be, but yet I felt that the idea and vision were a good one, and hopefully the NYC Muslims and their supporters will find another way to express that vision. Being close to Imam Feisal and Daisy Khan, I only wish them well as they search for other venues in Manhattan. As for the ugliness and hate that showed up at the door of Tribeca, many Tribecans claim it was outside influence, and they as residents had no issue.  So be it…hate shows its face throughout history, and many times hate is funded well.

In the early morning, I would take the baby for a walk alongside the beautiful river/ocean walk. Starting at the Tribeca bridge, which crosses the West Side Highway, and the piers I would walk south along the water watching the boats rock gently in the marina, or saunter out gently as their owners enjoyed these last few weeks of summer.  The scene on a weekday morning is just wonderful: young career people jogging before going to work; early bird career people in their suits on phones rushing to get to the office at 7am, coffee cup in hand; retired couples slowly walking and talking; and of course, a stroller brigade of nannies more than mothers taking babies out for fresh air while the weather allows it.  It is so busy even at 7am, which is delightful.  It is as if people cannot wait to wake up and greet the bright day and thank God to be alive and active!  The friendliness of people, unlike the reputation of Manhattanites, surprised me.  My grandson’s dimply smile attracted so many well wishers who struck up a conversation spontaneously, which was so welcoming!  One woman, upon ending the conversation said to Pasha: “have a great life!”- how sweet.

The views of Jersey City are lovely.  We had just been at my daughter-in-law Amna’s brother’s wedding at Jersey City Hyatt.  Among all the waterfront hotels, it gleams across the river, and as I saw it from the other side, I remembered the loveliest black-tie wedding reception for Manny and Mashal only a few days before fondly!  I also remembered how decades ago, none of this existed. When I worked on Wall Street in the 80’s and early 90’s, the waterfront was landfill slowly being built up, with nothing but trucks coming in and out of West Side Highway. There were no residential neighborhoods west of the West Side Highway, no bridges over the highway, and certainly, none of the classy lofts, brownstone and luxury buildings, like my daughter’s, at that time. It was strictly office buildings, and practically a ghost town at night.  I remember being surprised at a colleague, who worked with me at Shearson Lehman Hutton (which of course does not exist anymore thanks to the short life of corporations today), who had just bought a loft in Tribeca.  I think it wasn’t even called Tribeca then.  I wonder if Robert DiNiro- Don of Tribeca – coined that term?  Now you hear new terms like Noho (North of Houston) in addition to SoHo (South of Houston).   How fast neighborhoods change in Manhattan, and yet how they preserve the ancient tradition of human community as well!




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