Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sema: Whirling Dervishes...

Come, Come whoever you are
Come and come yet again
Come even if you have broken your vows a thousand times
Wanderer, idolater, worshipper of fire
Ours is not a caravan of despair
This is the date of hope
Come, come yet again, come...

Last evening I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Rumi Forum. A night dedicated to Rumi, his way of love, peace and universal truth. UNESCO has declared 2007 the year of Rumi to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Jelaladdin Rumi. If you are unfamiliar with Rumi, he is one of the greatest spiritual and literary figures known for his message call for love, humanity and peace.

The evening began with speeches from diplomats, embassy representatives and Turkish Konya mayor. It was a gathering of Turkey and Pakistan in a united gathering celebrating their strong brotherhood. It was also the first performance of the Sema: Turkish Whirling Dervishes on what is now to become their world tour. Sema consists of seven parts and can be thoroughly explained through

From a scientific viewpoint we witness that contemporary science definitely confirms that the fundamental condition of our existence is to revolve. There is no object, no being which does not revolve and the shared similarity among beings is the revolution of the electrons, protons and neutrons in the atoms which constitute the structure of each of them. As a man carries on his life, his very existence by means of the revolution in the atoms, structural stones of his body, by the revolution of his blood, by his coming from earth and return to it, by his revolving with earth itself. However, all of these re natural, unconscious revolutions. But man is the possessor of a mind and intelligence which distinguishes him from and makes him superior to other beings. Thus the "whirling dervish" or Semazen causes the mind to participate in the shared similarity and revolution of all other
beings. Other wise, the Sema ceremony represents a mystical journey of man's spiritual ascent through mind and love to "Perfect". Turning towards the truth, his growth through love, desert his ego, find the truth and arrive to the "Perfect", then he returns from this spiritual journey as a man who reached maturity and a greater perfection, so as to love and to be of service to the whole of creation, to all creatures without discrimination of beliefs, races, classes or nations.

Seven advices of Mevlana:
- In generosity and helping others be like a river

- In compassion and grace be like the sun

- In concealing others faults be like the night

- In anger and fury be like the dead

- In modesty and humility be like the earth

- In tolerance be like a sea

- Either exist as you are or be as you look

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Pakistan and Hindustan reflections...

I was recently asked a two part question that I thought deserved some time and effort. I was also on the University of Punjab campus today meeting with the head of the sociology department, Dr. Muhammad Hafeez. I was given a tour of the facilities and managed to get into some discussions with some of the master's level students that touched on the same topic. [ed. These conversations influenced this post to make the comparison between the two countries rather than finding the commonalities within the culture.]

After spending so much time in the subcontinent, how has your perspective changed on:
a. Your impression of India/Pakistan (since you grew up outside the country and probably had ideas from books and videos and what people told you or short visits). But now you've spent a longer time in these countries and really gotten to know them.

I have been continually asked to compare the two countries and state which one in my opinion is my favorite, or which one is better. I was given a pearl of wisdom today which lends to this particular situation... "brothers always fight but strangers never do". There is a constant comparison and battle amongst these brothers.

The picture that was painted for me was no where near what it actually was. A distorted Salvador Dali like painting emerged. I thought Pakistan was a dirty, third world terrorist breeding ground full of Islamic fundamentalists that interpreted the teachings of Islam and rendered them conducive to their own agendas. Some of these points are accurate like an arrow piercing an apple on top of someone's head. The two countries were once one and since partition in 1947 they have their own identities.

I experienced both countries in a different manner. In Pakistan I was surrounded by family constantly and hosted properly. In India I was a vagabond just roaming about discovering. So these two different ways of traveling creates two different experiences. But what I will tell you
is that the concept of 'mehman' is very strong in South Asia. Mehman means guest and here [ed. two countries as one] they treat their guests royally. People go out of their way to accommodate you, help you and make sure that everything that you need is accomplished. I found that in Pakistan the level of hosting is much greater than in India. Not to take away from the plethora of people that lent me a helping hand during my travels in India.

Another thing that stands out is that whenever an Indian found out I had been to both India and Pakistan they instantly wanted to know which one was better. I always answered with diplomacy, never quite giving them the answer that they wanted but still satisfying their query. Pakistani people would never differentiate whereas Indians would always make comments towards Pakistanis. There is a saying I learned in India and it is 'Chalo Pakistan'. Chalo means to 'go' or 'let's go' and when they say 'go to Pakistan' it is a curse meaning go to hell - Pakistan is hell, then you go to it. This is something that is commonplace in India. You'll never find anything like that in Pakistan. The problem is that Pakistan has no where near the tourist industry that India has. People get to experience India and form their opinions of the ashrams they've been to, the sadhus that passed on their wisdom, the amazing architecture, landscapes and people. Only a hand full of 'brave' travelers venture off to Pakistan. When I was at the Canadian Embassy in Delhi and spoke of my travel plans to Pakistan they handed me a twelve page travel advisory not to travel in Pakistan. I was amazed.

I also made the observation that Pakistan seems to be more developed than India. India is a filthy place but has a power house economy, nothing in comparison to Pakistan. India is a very rich country. I'm not saying that Pakistan is any cleaner, but the cities are very well kept. A possible reason is that Muslims hold cleanliness next to godliness. Whenever I was traveling in India, the guesthouses in the Muslim areas were much cleaner as were the area housing them.

The progressive attitudes in India were found in the major metropolises, those are the areas I tried to avoid. I passed through Kolkata, haven't yet been to Mumbai but I'm sure it will be more plastic than Delhi. [ed. I make this statement with the distaste I found in Delhi still resonating. I simply mean that it is a large center that is full of hustle and bustle. I should have chosen my words more carefully, something I work on on a daily basis. You either like the fast pace or not. These days I am siding with the relaxed nature of smaller cities and villages. I used to love the fast pace and who is to say that I won't like it again. Given the right circumstances, which most likely will present themselves in Mumbai, I could easily fall back in love with it. Moving and shaking... I've always been good at that.] In Delhi it was interesting to witness the hierarchy of classes though. If you were a posh citizen, then Hindi was rarely spoken and replaced with this slightly Queen's English influenced accent. And speaking of hierarchies, Indians are taught to differentiate between people from birth. If you are born into a certain class, let's say a lower caste, then you are taught that you have to tolerate being treated like dirt. In contrast, if you are born into a higher caste you are taught that you can treat people with little to no respect. I had the privilege of staying with a friend in Anand Lok. A small little colony of well to do, border line uppity types. Whenever I walked the colony, security guards, drivers and the like would light up and smile and we would exchange kind words. These people are working class and god forbid anyone living here should speak to them like a human being. That is the one thing I really disliked about the caste system in India. I would always connect with every human being whether it be a rickshaw driver, servant, driver, beggar, business owner or a suit. I was raised to respect all human life and I have an appreciation for the connection that you make when you look someone in the eyes and see the inner child light up.

I could continue to write on this subject but I think this little blurb is sufficient enough to satisfy the question and give some insight to those who have never traveled here. So in summary, my perspective has changed by thinking that these were developing, borderline Third World countries and I now find that they are both rich in culture, life and spirit. The only thing I don't understand is why these two countries that were once one make extraordinary efforts to segregate themselves from one another. We are all brothers and sisters and reiterating the pearl of wisdom I received... "brothers always fight but strangers never do" - my only explanation. [ed. If I were to assume that India and Pakistan are the same place then my findings from previous have changed dramatically. It is a culture rich in family. Something that lacks in the culture I was born into, although there are exceptions. I always thought of this area as poor and backwards. It's funny in retrospect but I now have to say that North American culture is the one that is poor and backwards. Here they have things right. Family values are of utmost importance. You can have four generations of people in the same room listening to music and all of them are tapping their feet and sharing their thoughts with one another. The tight knit is absolutely impressive. People here are more wealthy for their love of one another.]

b. How did it change you? positive way, not so positive?

It's changed me in the sense that I prefer buckets of water for my bathing, I prefer squat toilets, eating with my hands and am tolerant of dirt. I could give up my existence in the North American world and remain here completely content. Something I could have never imagined a
year ago. It is all familiar, it's home. I can't explain it, but I've been here before. So I have to say that it was completely positive change and the insights gained into my family, especially my father have been enormous. We can all make up our minds about something but until you've experienced it first hand you have no right to pass judgment. I'm guilty of that last one, my judgment was passed swiftly. I am so thrilled that I was given the opportunity to experience this. [ed. The only way I know how to answer this simply is that I don't want to go back. My thoughts before experiencing it first hand were to sample it, take something back with me and continue on with my draining existence in the consumer driven world applying what I learned. Instead I find myself with the desire to remain here and continue my existence among these people and making all the efforts to do so.]

My initial response to the question:

a. the media has painted a picture of pakistan that doen't quite match
up to what it actually is. india however is geared up for the tourist
industry where pakistan is not and has more stringent barriers on
border. there is a saying here... same same, but different. they were
once united in a land of desi and now the differences are just that -
differences where they should be our commonalities...
-short response
b. absolutely positive. not only did it give me perspective in who i am
and where i come from... but also my parents...
if i could... i would stay much longer
i'll respond to this in a blog if you don't mind... i think it's a great
question and would like to share my findings...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The crescent moon and star...

I am now in Lahore after an arduous journey. I had met an Italian man while walking across the border, which is an odd occurrence to come across another traveler entering Pakistan. We were delayed on the Indian side and ended up running with bags in hand to meet the 4pm closing time of the Pakistani border. Once landed and stamped with permission to be in Pakistan a man came into the office and asked the officer in charge if a Khayyam Wakil had come through. Immediately I thought the worst ;) It turned out however to be a blessing. My cousin had called one of the customs officer to ensure my safe passage and facilitate my transportation to Lahore from Wagha/Atari.

Gian, the Italian chap, and I arrived at my cousin's home and as we were unloading the vehicle I looked back and saw my mother. I dropped everything and just ran to embrace her. I told her not to cry because that would prompt me to. I just held her and was so happy to see her. She hadn't eaten all day and was worried sick. She didn't even want to call me by chance that there was some news that she didn't want to hear. So I kept in touch with my cousin and she would relay my progress. My mother woke up in the morning and sneezed. Some say that when you sneeze someone is thinking of you. She said that she new it was me who was thinking of her and I was on a train. She was absolutely correct. My cousin called me and I was indeed on the train. Separated by kilometers, she was still right there with me. Upon my arrival I fielded a few dozen calls to relatives from all over relieved that I made it across the border safe and sound. The train bombing did not help the situation at all.

I am now in Lahore until the weekend. The Basant festival is about to begin. This festival is celebrated in south asia with kite flying and celebration of the departure of winter and the arrival of spring. The kite flying is a past time that takes place on the rooftops of homes. The sky is filled with kites of all shapes and forms. Lahore and Lucknow are famous for their kite making. I've flown kites before, but nothing to the measures that are exercised here. It is a serious tradition and sport. Not only is there kite flying, but there is kite fighting. A duel in the sky for young people enjoy. In the past one would even coat the kite cord with glass shards so that when it met with an opponents kite string, it could cut the other kite down to it's demise.

After the weekend I shall be heading north to Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and Abbottabad to meet the rest of the hundred relatives and share my new found ability to converse in my mother tongue.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


I chose to wait until I was aboard a train to start writing about my last month in turmoil in New Delhi. I thought it was fitting to write my analysis en route to the motherland just after the attack on the Delhi-Atari "Friendship" Train.

I have spent the last month running back and forth trying to simply exit the country. Unfortunate for me, I have Pakistani visas in my passport which immediately gave concern. What should have take under two weeks was stretched out to an entire month. I had met many a people in need of an exit visa and gaining them within a week and one even received hers in less than a few days. The reasons for my tardy exit visa was that there were intensive investigations, inquiries and insults. I had been thwarted to the bottom of the pile waiting days just to receive a letter. There are some issues I have with all that transpired. I do not hold any grudges, need to complain or any such thing - I'm indifferent. You see, on one hand I have to admit that they are doing their job and researching the possibilities of any threats. At least I know that someone is doing their job. Although they have wasted investigations and countless of hours of probing, I am free and clear to leave the country. One problem. Since the delays and changing my flight four times, I pushed my luck. The next available date that I could get a confirmed seat on was the first week in March. Tried the direct Delhi to Lahore bus company, also sold out. So, I ended up on a train to Amritsar only to make the journey to Wagha, the border station, once again. I had previously attempted to exit the country only to be turned back to Delhi to enjoy countless hours of watching my nails grow and hair turn white. This attempt I am legally permitted to exit India and enter Pakistan (limited time offer, exit visa expires today).

The last month has been a blessing in human nature. Traveling allows you to interact with people and then be able to walk away with an exchange. Being in Delhi for an extended period of time has allowed me to form friendships and meet new acquaintances. Amazing people that have open their hearts and doors to me. The absolute love that can come from a human being is always catching me by surprise.

I had a day where I just overpayed everyone for services rendered. There are so many occurrences of me ignoring the needs of human beings and so I decided to reflect another image. I decided to connect with each human being as they were. No castes, no superiority, just one
human being to another - eyes locked.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Just add some masala...

From time to time I have avenues in which to divert my energies to. These happen to be little creative en devours that produce aesthetically pleasing promotional material. Bipasha Basu of Bollywood fame graces the front of this advertisement for a new lounge and it's entertainment.

Drop it like it's hot like the kids say...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

60 degrees of separation...

I was informed that it was a mind blowing -40 degrees centigrade in my good old hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The temperature in New Delhi at the time was +20 degrees. That's an astounding 60 degrees of separation!

I know I've existed in and through the wicked winter months previously but I just don't know if I could handle it after being accustomed to the tropical climate of India. I'm shivering and caught a cold here because 20 is freezing. I've always been asked by locals, "How do you survive?" which I respond to the 45 degree weather enduring folk "How do you survive?"

I have to admit that I am so glad that I am not under feet and feet of snow. I don't think I can come back till the leaves are green and there is no snow. Even then it will be difficult for me to come back;) But if there is a sunflower in my path then it will be all that much better and home might feel like home.

Here's to the 'Land of the Living Skies'...

Friday, February 09, 2007

Chivalrous behaviours...

"If you meet a lady of your acquaintance in the street, it is her part to notice you first, unless, indeed you are very intimate. The reason is, if you bow to a lady first, she may not choose to acknowledge you, and there is no remedy; but if she bow to you--you as a gentleman cannot cut her."
Hints on Etiquette, 1836

We are always growing but in which way I sometimes ask myself. The art and practice of chivalry is mourned, long and forgotten. I'm not speaking of the knightly virtues but rather etiquette of how one should conduct themselves, particularly with a lady. We are constantly bombarded with billboards with half naked women and fed what we are supposed to look like and how to act by magazines, movies and society. How does that compare with a concept that has no billboards, no magazine articles and rarely presents itself in films? We are visually stimulated beings and the constant barrage has left us with no tact, no courtesy, no consideration, no gentlemen-like conduct and most importantly, no knowledge of how to be chivalrous.

I recently met the acquaintance of a young lady from Australia that met with a motorcycle accident. So there is no doubt that I had empathized and sympathized with her challenge. We were tortured with waiting in the Jaisalemer House (the Office of Home Affairs) for our dose of bureaucratic roundabouts and our 'letters'. This greenish brown envelope is presented with the strong statement that it cannot be opened and has to be delivered to the recipient in tact. The crutches that were supporting her seemed to bring such discomfort. I offered some advice to her that would save her climbing stair cases more than she had to. We had five hours to pass before we could return to pick up our 'letters'. She had some errands to run so I accompanied her. She had a driver for the day so this made traversing the vastness of New Delhi that much more comfortable. I had no other intentions but to escort a damsel in distress, to simply offer an arm to aid her in her strife - makes you feel good to do good ;) So I thank her for allowing me to be the way that I am and allow me to recognize what it truly means to be a gentleman.

When a gentleman is escorting a lady, his wife, mother, sister, friend or relative on the street, it is his duty to insist on carrying any article that she may have in her possession. In addition, a gentleman will take the side closest to the open street. The reason behind this is because the horse and carriage in it's day would come barreling down a dirt road way and would find the hole in the ground that housed the filthy mud water which could find it's way to the lady. Not so is the case if the gentlemen does what he is supposed to and take the splash to prevent a drop to hit. That lesson was one of the most influential I've been passed on, it opened up the desire to become a better person.

There is the visual representation of what I try and instill in other human beings and that is the pebble in the water. When it impacts a wave resonates out in wavelengths of rings. I try on a daily basis to throw pebbles in hope that one wave impacts and gentlemanly conduct catches on like a over marketed trend. If it were only so easy. I was forwarded an article about New Delhi lacking social graces recently which also made me venture into the thoughts of should's and should-not's.

My efforts might be a drop in the bucket but one day the bucket will be full...

Friends, how many of us have them...

I have to just take a moment to give out some appreciation to the most amazing friends that show support and love unparalleled. My mother finally got to meet the people that mean so much to me. Hearing the kindness that poured out made me really homesick. So I want to epress to you all how much I miss you. Those that were always there whether words were spoken or not. I have felt what it means to have strength and what a family really means. My families are coming together and gathering steam. You all know who you are and I thank you for forward motion. I love you.

So just wanted to take a moment and give the thank you's and commend you on the tumultuous task of being a good friend. You're no longer friends to me, you're now loved ones ;)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Why we travel...

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again -- to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.

An exerpt from Pico Iyer's essay Why We Travel (complete)

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