Gaza

by Sudeep Sen

Soaked in blood, children,

their heads blown out

even before they are formed.

Gauze, gauze, more gauze —

interminable lengths

not long enough to soak

all the blood in Gaza.

A river of blood flowing,

flooding the desert sands

with incarnadine hate.

An endless lava stream,

a wellspring red river

on an otherwise

parched-orphaned land,

bombed every five minutes

to strip Gaza of whatever

is left of the Gaza strip.

With sullied hands

of innocent children,

we strip ourselves

of all dignity and grace.

Look at the bodies

of the little ones killed —

their scarred faces smile,

their vacant eyes stare

with no malice

at the futility of all

the blood that is spilt.

And even as we refuse

to learn from the wasted

deaths of these children,

their parents, country,

world— weep blood. Stop

the blood-bath — heed, heal.

Sudeep Sen is widely recognised as a major new generation voice in world literature and ‘one of the finest younger English-language poets in the international literary scene’ (BBC Radio). 

Picturing Abortion

by Sarah Ackley

Hipocrite Reader ISSUE 14 | INNOCENCE | MAR 2012

The stunning fetal images by photographer Lennart Nilsson, first published in the April 3, 1965 issue of Life, have become iconic in the anti-abortion movement. According to Life Site News, Nilsson is credited with taking “photographs that the pro-life movement has found priceless: the earliest and most compelling visual images that give intimate detail and clarity to the humanity of unborn children in the womb.” Rev. Thomas Euteneuer, President of Human Life International, an anti-abortion advocacy organization, has said, “Images such as those created by Lennart Nilsson absolutely reaffirm the humanity of unborn persons, which is why they are so unpopular with pro-abortion forces.”

Nilsson certainly wasn’t the first to photograph the fetus. A number of photographs of embryos and fetuses appeared in the July 3, 1950 issue of Life magazine, but Nilsson was thought to be the first to photograph live fetuses in the uterus. The editor’s note of the 1965 issue of Lifereads,

The opening picture in Nilsson’s essay, a live baby inside the womb, is a historic and extraordinary photographic achievement… [A] doctor said, “As far as I know, in utero pictures such as Nilsson’s have never been taken before. When you take living tissue in its living state and view it in its natural surroundings you can see things you can’t see afterward. Being able to view the fetus inside the uterus, and being able to note its circulatory details, is rather sensational from our point of view.”


Continue reading “Picturing Abortion”

If – By Rudyard Kipling

If By Rudyard Kipling

A poem for the day

forwarded to me this morning by Joan Heather

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Salima Hashmi on Faiz Ahmed Faiz

In this lovely interview, Salima Hashmi, who has played such a vital role in promoting Pakistani art, talks about her father Faiz Ahmad Faiz. About writing poetry under military rule, about his meeting with Pablo Neruda and his feelings about the birth of Bangladesh.
Recorded at the Bellagio Centre in Italy in 2013.

 

Open House for Butterflies

Ruth Krauss’s Final and Loveliest Collaboration with Maurice Sendak

by
“Krauss books can be bridges between the poor dull insensitive adult and the fresh, imaginative, brand-new child.”

Beloved children’s author Ruth Krauss (July 25, 1901–July 10, 1993) penned more than thirty books for little ones over the course of her forty-year career, but remains best-known as half of one of the most celebrated author-illustrator duos of all time, the other half being none other thanMaurice Sendak. Their eight-year partnership, masterminded by the great Ursula Nordstrom who also nursed Sendak into genius, produced such soul-stirring, heart-warming delights as the hopelessly wonderful ode to friendship I’ll Be You and You Be Me. But Krauss’s eighth and final* collaboration with Sendak, Open House for Butterflies (public library), was arguably their loveliest. Originally published in 1960 and thankfully, unlike what happens to a tragic many out-of-print gems, reprinted in 2001, this tiny treasure is a timeless smile-inducer for children and grown-ups alike.
Continue reading “Open House for Butterflies”

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

by Ambrose Bierce (please read till the end)

A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man’s hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck. It was attached to a stout cross-timber above his head and the slack fell to the level of his knees. Some loose boards laid upon the sleepers supporting the metals of the railway supplied a footing for him and his executioners–two private soldiers of the Federal army, directed by a sergeant who in civil life may have been a deputy sheriff. At a short remove upon the same temporary platform was an officer in the uniform of his rank, armed. He was a captain. A sentinel at each end of the bridge stood with his rifle in the position known as “support,” that is to say, vertical in front of the left shoulder, the hammer resting on the forearm thrown straight across the chest–a formal and unnatural position, enforcing an erect carriage of the body. It did not appear to be the duty of these two men to know what was occurring at the center of the bridge; they merely blockaded the two ends of the foot planking that traversed it.
 
Beyond one of the sentinels nobody was in sight; the railroad ran straight away into a forest for a hundred yards, then, curving, was lost to view. Doubtless there was an outpost farther along. The other bank of the stream was open ground–a gentle acclivity topped with a stockade of vertical tree trunks, loopholed for rifles, with a single embrasure through which protruded the muzzle of a brass cannon commanding the bridge. Midway of the slope between the bridge and fort were the spectators–a single company of infantry in line, at “parade rest,” the butts of the rifles on the ground, the barrels inclining slightly backward against the right shoulder, the hands crossed upon the stock. A lieu tenant stood at the right of the line, the point of his sword upon the ground, his left hand resting upon his right. Excepting the group of four at the center of the bridge, not a man moved. The company faced the bridge, staring stonily, motionless. The sentinels, facing the banks of the stream, might have been statues to adorn the bridge. The captain stood with folded arms, silent, observing the work of his subordinates, but making no sign. Death is a dignitary who when he comes announced is to be received with formal manifestations of respect, even by those most familiar with him. In the code of military etiquette silence and fixity are forms of deference.
 
The man who was engaged in being hanged was apparently about thirty-five years of age. He was a civilian, if one might judge from his habit, which was that of a planter. His features were good–a straight nose, firm mouth, broad forehead, from which his long, dark hair was combed straight back, falling behind his ears to the collar of his well-fitting frock coat. He wore a mustache and pointed beard, but no whiskers; his eyes were large and dark gray, and had a kindly expression which one would hardly have expected in one whose neck was in the hemp. Evidently this was no vulgar assassin. The liberal military code makes provision for hanging many kinds of persons, and gentlemen are not excluded.
 
The preparations being complete, the two private soldiers stepped aside and each drew away the plank upon which he had been standing. The sergeant turned to the captain, saluted and placed himself immediately behind that officer, who in turn moved apart one pace. These movements left the condemned man and the sergeant standing on the two ends of the same plank, which spanned three of the cross-ties of the bridge. The end upon which the civilian stood almost, but not quite, reached a fourth. This plank had been held in place by the weight of the captain; it was now held by that of the sergeant. At a signal from the former the latter would step aside, the plank would tilt and the condemned man go down between two ties. The arrangement commended itself to his judgment as simple and effective. His face had not been covered nor his eyes bandaged. He looked a moment at his “unsteadfast footing,” then let his gaze wander to the swirling water of the stream racing madly beneath his feet. A piece of dancing driftwood caught his attention and his eyes followed it down the current. How slowly it appeared to move, What a sluggish stream!
 
He closed his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children. The water, touched to gold by the early sun, the brooding mists under the banks at some distance down the stream, the fort, the soldiers, the piece of drift–all had distracted him. And now he became conscious of a new disturbance. Striking through the thought of his dear ones was a sound which he could neither ignore nor understand, a sharp, distinct, metallic percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith’s hammer upon the anvil; it had the same ringing quality. He wondered what it was, and whether immeasurably distant or near by–it seemed both. Its recurrence was regular, but as slow as the tolling of a death knell. He awaited each stroke with impatience and–he knew not why–apprehension. The intervals of silence grew progressively longer, the delays became maddening. With their greater infrequency the sounds increased in strength and sharpness. They hurt his ear like the thrust of a knife; he feared he would shriek. What he heard was the ticking of his watch.
 
He unclosed his eyes and saw again the water below him. “If I could free my hands,” he thought, “I might throw off the noose and spring into the stream. By diving I could evade the bullets and, swimming vigorously, reach the bank, take to the woods and get away home. My home, thank God, is as yet outside their lines; my wife and little ones are still beyond the invader’s farthest advance.”
 
As these thoughts, which have here to be set down in words, were flashed into the doomed man’s brain rather than evolved from it the captain nodded to the sergeant. The sergeant stepped aside.
 
 
II
Peyton Farquhar was a well-to-do planter, of an old and highly respected Alabama family. Being a slave owner and like other slave owners a politician he was naturally an original secessionist and ardently devoted to the Southern cause. Circumstances of an imperious nature, which it is unnecessary to relate here, had prevented him from taking service with the gallant army that had fought the disastrous campaigns ending with the fall of Corinth, and he chafed under the inglorious restraint, longing for the release of his energies, the larger life of the soldier, the opportunity for distinction. That opportunity, he felt, would come, as it comes to all in war time. Meanwhile he did what he could. No service was too humble for him to perform in aid of the South, no adventure too perilous for him to undertake if consistent with the character of a civilian who was at heart a soldier, and who in good faith and without too much qualification assented to at least a part of the frankly villainous dictum that all is fair in love and war.
 
One evening while Farquhar and his wife were sitting on a rustic bench near the entrance to his grounds, a gray-clad soldier rode up to the gate and asked for a drink of water. Mrs. Farquhar was only toe, happy to serve him with her own white hands. While she was fetching the water her husband approached the dusty horseman and inquired eagerly for news from the front.
 
“The Yanks are repairing the railroads,” said the man, “and are getting ready for another advance. They have reached the Owl Creek bridge, put it in order and built a stockade on the north bank. The commandant has issued an order, which is posted everywhere, declaring that any civilian caught interfering with the railroad, its bridges, tunnels or trains will be summarily hanged. I saw the order.”
 
“How far is it to the Owl Creek bridge?” Farquhar asked.
 
“About thirty miles.”
 
“Is there no force on this side the creek?”
 
“Only a picket post half a mile out, on the railroad, and a single sentinel at this end of the bridge.”
 
“Suppose a man–a civilian and student of hanging–should elude the picket post and perhaps get the better of the sentinel,” said Farquhar, smiling, “what could he accomplish?”
 
The soldier reflected. “I was there a month ago,” he replied. “I observed that the flood of last winter had lodged a great quantity of driftwood against the wooden pier at this end of the bridge. It is now dry and would burn like tow.”
 
The lady had now brought the water, which the soldier drank. He thanked her ceremoniously, bowed to her husband and rode away. An hour later, after nightfall, he repassed the plantation, going northward in the direction from which he had come. He was a Federal scout.
 
 
III
As Peyton Farquhar fell straight downward through the bridge he lost consciousness and was as one already dead. From this state he was awakened–ages later, it seemed to him–by the pain of a sharp pressure upon his throat, followed by a sense of suffocation. Keen, poignant agonies seemed to shoot from his neck downward through every fiber of his body and limbs. These pains appeared to flash along well-defined lines of ramification and to beat with an inconceivably rapid periodicity. They seemed like streams of pulsating fire heating him to an intolerable temperature. As to his head, he was conscious of nothing but a feeling of fulness–of congestion. These sensations were unaccompanied by thought. The intellectual part of his nature was already effaced; he had power only to feel, and feeling was torment. He was conscious of motion. Encompassed in a luminous cloud, of which he was now merely the fiery heart, without material substance, he swung through unthinkable arcs of oscillation, like a vast pendulum. Then all at once, with terrible suddenness, the light about him shot upward with the noise of a loud splash; a frightful roaring was in his ears, and all was cold and dark. The power of thought was restored; he knew that the rope had broken and he had fallen into the stream. There was no additional strangulation; the noose about his neck was already suffocating him and kept the water from his lungs. To die of hanging at the bottom of a river!–the idea seemed to him ludicrous. He opened his eyes in the darkness and saw above him a gleam of light, but how distant, how inaccessible! He was still sinking, for the light became fainter and fainter until it was a mere glimmer. Then it began to grow and brighten, and he knew that he was rising toward the surface–knew it with reluctance, for he was now very comfortable. “To be hanged and drowned,” he thought? “that is not so bad; but I do not wish to be shot. No; I will not be shot; that is not fair.”
 
He was not conscious of an effort, but a sharp pain in his wrist apprised him that he was trying to free his hands. He gave the struggle his attention, as an idler might observe the feat of a juggler, without interest in the outcome. What splendid effort!–what magnificent, what superhuman strength! Ah, that was a fine endeavor! Bravo! The cord fell away; his arms parted and floated upward, the hands dimly seen on each side in the growing light. He watched them with a new interest as first one and then the other pounced upon the noose at his neck. They tore it away and thrust it fiercely aside, its undulations resembling those of a water snake. “Put it back, put it back!” He thought he shouted these words to his hands, for the undoing of the noose had been succeeded by the direst pang that he had yet experienced. His neck ached horribly; his brain was on fire; his heart, which had been fluttering faintly, gave a great leap, trying to force itself out at his mouth. His whole body was racked and wrenched with an insupportable anguish! But his disobedient hands gave no heed to the command. They beat the water vigorously with quick, downward strokes, forcing him to the surface. He felt his head emerge; his eyes were blinded by the sunlight; his chest expanded convulsively, and with a supreme and crowning agony his lungs engulfed a great draught of air, which instantly he expelled in a shriek!
 
He was now in full possession of his physical senses. They were, indeed, preternaturally keen and alert. Something in the awful disturbance of his organic system had so exalted and refined them that they made record of things never before perceived. He felt the ripples upon his face and heard their separate sounds as they struck. He looked at the forest on the bank of the stream, saw the individual trees, the leaves and the veining of each leaf–saw the very insects upon them: the locusts, the brilliant-bodied flies, the grey spiders stretching their webs from twig to twig. He noted the prismatic colors in all the dewdrops upon a million blades of grass. The humming of the gnats that danced above the eddies of the stream, the beating of the dragon flies’ wings, the strokes of the water-spiders’ legs, like oars which had lifted their boat–all these made audible music. A fish slid along beneath his eyes and he heard the rush of its body parting the water.
 
He had come to the surface facing down the stream; in a moment the visible world seemed to wheel slowly round, himself the pivotal point, and he saw the bridge, the fort, the soldiers upon the bridge, the captain, the sergeant, the two privates, his executioners. They were in silhouette against the blue sky. They shouted and gesticulated, pointing at him. The captain had drawn his pistol, but did not fire; the others were unarmed. Their movements were grotesque and horrible, their forms gigantic.
 
Suddenly he heard a sharp report and something struck the water smartly within a few inches of his head, spattering his face with spray. He heard a second report, and saw one of the sentinels with his rifle at his shoulder, a light cloud of blue smoke rising from the muzzle. The man in the water saw the eye of the man on the bridge gazing into his own through the sights of the rifle. He observed that it was a grey eye and remembered having read that grey eyes were keenest, and that all famous marksmen had them. Nevertheless, this one had missed.
 
A counter-swirl had caught Farquhar and turned him half round; he was again looking into the forest on the bank opposite the fort. The sound of a clear, high voice in a monotonous singsong now rang out behind him and came across the water with a distinctness that pierced and subdued all other sounds, even the beating of the ripples in his ears. Although no soldier, he had frequented camps enough to know the dread significance of that deliberate, drawling, aspirated chant; the lieu. tenant on shore was taking a part in the morning’s work. How coldly and pitilessly–with what an even, calm intonation, presaging, and enforcing tranquillity in the men–with what accurately measured inter vals fell those cruel words:
 
“Attention, company! . . Shoulder arms! . . . Ready! . . . Aim! . . . Fire!”
 
Farquhar dived–dived as deeply as he could. The water roared in his ears like the voice of Niagara, yet he heard the dulled thunder of the volley and, rising again toward the surface, met shining bits of metal, singularly flattened, oscillating slowly downward. Some of them touched him on the face and hands, then fell away, continuing their descent. One lodged between his collar and neck; it was uncomfortably warm and he snatched it out.
 
As he rose to the surface, gasping for breath, he saw that he had been a long time under water; he was perceptibly farther down stream nearer to safety. The soldiers had almost finished reloading; the metal ramrods flashed all at once in the sunshine as they were drawn from the barrels, turned in the air, and thrust into their sockets. The two sentinels fired again, independently and ineffectually.
 
The hunted man saw all this over his shoulder; he was now swimming vigorously with the current. His brain was as energetic as his arms and legs; he thought with the rapidity of lightning.
 
The officer,” he reasoned, “will not make that martinet’s error a second time. It is as easy to dodge a volley as a single shot. He has probably already given the command to fire at will. God help me, I cannot dodge them all!”
 
An appalling plash within two yards of him was followed by a loud, rushing sound, diminuendo, which seemed to travel back through the air to the fort and died in an explosion which stirred the very river to its deeps!
 
A rising sheet of water curved over him, fell down upon him, blinded him, strangled him! The cannon had taken a hand in the game. As he shook his head free from the commotion of the smitten water he heard the deflected shot humming through the air ahead, and in an instant it was cracking and smashing the branches in the forest beyond.
 
“They will not do that again,” he thought; “the next time they will use a charge of grape. I must keep my eye upon the gun; the smoke will apprise me–the report arrives too late; it lags behind the missile. That is a good gun.”
 
Suddenly he felt himself whirled round and round–spinning like a top. The water, the banks, the forests, the now distant bridge, fort and men–all were commingled and blurred. Objects were represented by their colors only; circular horizontal streaks of color–that was all he saw. He had been caught in a vortex and was being whirled on with a velocity of advance and gyration that made him giddy and sick. In a few moments he was flung upon the gravel at the foot of the left bank of the stream–the southern bank–and behind a projecting point which concealed him from his enemies. The sudden arrest of his motion, the abrasion of one of his hands on the gravel, restored him, and he wept with delight. He dug his fingers into the sand, threw it over himself in handfuls and audibly blessed it. It looked like diamonds, rubies, emeralds; he could think of nothing beautiful which it did not resemble. The trees upon the bank were giant garden plants; he noted a definite order in their arrangement, inhaled the fragrance of their blooms. A strange, roseate light shone through the spaces among their trunks and the wind made in their branches the music of ?olian harps. He had no wish to perfect his escape–was content to remain in that enchanting spot until retaken.
 
A whiz and rattle of grapeshot among the branches high above his head roused him from his dream. The baffled cannoneer had fired him a random farewell. He sprang to his feet, rushed up the sloping bank, and plunged into the forest.
 
All that day he traveled, laying his course by the rounding sun. The forest seemed interminable; nowhere did he discover a break in it, not even a woodman’s road. He had not known that he lived in so wild a region. There was something uncanny in the revelation.
 
By nightfall he was fatigued, footsore, famishing. The thought of his wife and children urged him on. At last he found a road which led him in what he knew to be the right direction. It was as wide and straight as a city street, yet it seemed untraveled. No fields bordered it, no dwelling anywhere. Not so much as the barking of a dog suggested human habitation. The black bodies of the trees formed a straight wall on both sides, terminating on the horizon in a point, like a diagram in a lesson in perspective. Overhead, as he looked up through this rift in the wood, shone great garden stars looking unfamiliar and grouped in strange constellations. He was sure they were arranged in some order which had a secret and malign significance. The wood on either side was full of singular noises, among which–once, twice, and again–he distinctly heard whispers in an unknown tongue.
 
His neck was in pain and lifting his hand to it found it horribly swollen. He knew that it had a circle of black where the rope had bruised it. His eyes felt congested; he could no longer close them. His tongue was swollen with thirst; he relieved its fever by thrusting it forward from between his teeth into the cold air. How softly the turf had carpeted the untraveled avenue–he could no longer feel the roadway beneath his feet!
 
Doubtless, despite his suffering, he had fallen asleep while walking, for now he sees another scene–perhaps he has merely recovered from a delirium. He stands at the gate of his own home. All is as he left it, and all bright and beautiful in the morning sunshine. He must have traveled the entire night. As he pushes open the gate and passes up the wide white walk, he sees a flutter of female garments; his wife, looking fresh and cool and sweet, steps down from the veranda to meet him. At the bottom of the steps she stands waiting, with a smile of ineffable joy, an attitude of matchless grace and dignity. Ah, how beautiful she is! He springs forward with extended arms. As he is about to clasp her he feels a stunning blow upon the back of the neck; a blinding white light blazes all about him with a sound like the shock of a cannon–then all is darkness and silence!
 
Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge.

The Torch

Nuhash Humayun November 13, 2013

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I was ten years old, on a bicycle, taking the only path I knew. I was going from my mother’s place to my father’s. People would ask me what it was like, having parents who were separated. I never really had an answer. Honestly, it wasn’t strange for me, it was the only life I knew. It was always like this, as far back as I remembered. My sisters would tell me that we were once this one big happy family, but those were just stories to me, fairytales almost. I had almost no recollection of seeing my parents together, ever. As far as I knew, this was life. I had a happy family too, just a little separated. And separations were temporary, right? It’s just one big fight that takes a while to fix.

People would ask me what it’s like living with your mother and only seeing your father once a week, or even less. My friends would ask me how I “picked” who I would live with, they asked if it was like the movies with a court and a judge and a lot of drama. It was fairly simple. It was kind of a given that I would live with my mother and my three sisters. My father was always busy anyway, how would he even take care of me? It was fine. I was fine seeing him once a week, maybe even less. And it didn’t really matter who I lived with did it? Because sooner or later, it would be all of us living together. Just like the old days.

I got my first cellphone when I was eleven. I went to my father’s place one day and he casually asked me if I had a cellphone. I said no, he seemed to have no reaction. Except the next day he came over to my place (as in my mother’s place) with a brand new phone. I was really happy with it. It was small and grey. It had eight different ringtones. It even had this torchlight. And what was even better, I was one of the first kids in my school to have his own phone. I went to school the next day and told my best friend about it. He was really excited too, the two of us went to all three sections of my grade and wrote down my phone number on the blackboard. It was a good day.

Did I mention I hate afternoon naps? I hate afternoon naps. The next day, I came home from school and almost instantly fell asleep in my sister’s room. This wasn’t going to be a long nap, I’m sure my sister would wake me up once she comes home from her college. She didn’t, I slept for hours. I woke up at around 8pm. I thought I would get scolded, for sleeping the entire day, not doing my homework. I didn’t even change out of my school uniform. I walked around the house, everyone was home. It was 8 pm, I was walking around in my school uniform looking very confused. No one seemed to notice me. I felt invisible.

My sister was the first to tell me, my parents got divorced. I wasn’t sure what that meant. Everyone looked shocked and really upset. I could only guess, this was worse than a separation. This wasn’t just one big family living separately anymore. I wasn’t sure what this was. I felt bad. It was strange seeing my mother and my sisters this upset all at once. A part of me wondered why I didn’t feel the same way, why I wasn’t as upset. I guess I would be just as sad, if I remembered our big happy family.

The first few months were particularly cold. It was like something had happened but no one was to speak of it. Every path I could take in this unspoken tragedy seemed morally ambiguous. Was my father to blame? Should I stop talking to him? Or would that be wrong, wrong on him? Should we stay in touch, or would that be wrong on my mother, would that hurt her? The questions weighed me down, there seemed to be no way out without hurting someone close to me. The guilt that was eating me up from the inside was so much worse than the initial shock of the divorce.

There would be long stretches of time when I wouldn’t see my father but we would always talk on the phone. My father was a writer by profession, an immensely popular one, but he referred to himself as a storyteller. His novels were national bestsellers every year, his films were just as popular and his television dramas were the highlight of every holiday season programming. Storytellers occasionally need rather bizarre facts for their stories and he would thus call me sometimes with rather strange requests: What are ten of the rarest phobias? Do animals dream when they sleep? How long is a gold fish’s memory? I was essentially the middleman between him and an Internet search engine. Urgent storyteller requests aside, we would talk about my day, how school went and a bunch of other things. It was strange really, I still don’t know how to explain what gradually happened. I guess a little time apart can say a lot about what really matters. As time went by my father and I grew closer.

391556_477941988901389_959954807_n1-300x241I was 13 and was reading A Brief History of Time in my father’s library while he wrote. Once he was satisfied with the day’s writing we would head to Rifles Square and pick out DVDs. He would pick One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and No Man’s Land, all the movies he wanted me to watch. I would pick Spider-man and Space Jam. Once the stack was large enough I’d review the titles we picked. Much to the chagrin of the store owners, I’d point out the movies in our stack that we had already watched (my father was a little absent minded, if it weren’t for me these people would’ve been selling him four copies of the same movie in a month). We would watch all kinds of films, I can confidently say I’ve watched more movies with him when I was younger than with anyone else, ever. Sometimes, when I would spend my weekends with my mother and not at his place, I’d get a text in the middle of the night, “Baba, I miss you. I’m lonely.”

That’s all he would say. My mother never said a word about how I spent so much time with him, well, not to me at least. I overheard her on the phone once, I think she was talking to my aunt.

“You know how he is, he has a way with words, he has a way with people. He knows how to mesmerize. Nuhash is obsessed with him. – And it’s great how close they are, it would’ve been terrible if they grew apart, but, Nuhash doesn’t know what he’s in for. His father takes him on trips and watches movies with him. I scold him about his grades. It’s only natural he loves his father more. But the man never takes responsibility. I’m just afraid someday he will really hurt the boy.”

She sounded deeply concerned; I wasn’t sure what it all meant. By then, I tried not to feel guilty. I devised a philosophy that I still live by today. Love is specific, different, for every person. You can’t show your love for one person by taking away your love for another – you can’t even if you wanted to. You can’t take away love, right?

My mother wasn’t too far off, I was crazy about my father. I was very much fascinated by my father and his world. My early teen years were a race to be like him, I paid acute attention to everything he did, whatever he said, how he spoke. When he spoke, the world stood still. Everyone in the room listened to him. He wasn’t loud, he wasn’t a roaring politician or a passionate performer. He told stories. Everything was a story. His morning walk was a story and so was what he had for lunch. He turned mundane anecdotes into enchantments. He told the best stories. I have no idea how he did it. I used to spend hours in front of my mirror, trying to talk like him, move my hands like him – pause like him. Those pauses gave me chills. He would pause in the middle of a story, eyebrows cringed, eyes wandering off. You would be afraid, afraid he had forgotten what he was saying, drifting off into another story, another world that’s just as mesmerizing. And the silence would clench your heart still. It wouldn’t beat until he spoke again. I started reading his books, wondering if his written word could capture his magic. They changed my life. When my friends were reading Harry Potter, I was reading Himu. Himu is one of his most popular recurring characters. He’s a delightfully witty young man who wanders the streets of Dhaka in a yellow panjabi. My sisters found my obsession with this Himu character endearing, one of them made me my own yellow panjabi. My father was ecstatic when he saw me wearing it, his face lit up. It meant something to him. It was me embodying his work, his creation. His one seed in the vessel of another. It didn’t quite make sense to me how childishly excited he was about all this. He wasn’t anywhere near as taken the day I told him I got all A’s in my O Levels – he calmly looked at me and went, “Of course you did Baba. You’re my son, I expected no less.”

Scan-4 e s2

A lot changed over the years but we had one ritual that was incorruptibly consistent. Every Eid, I’d go to his place early in the morning, wake him up and head off for prayer at the Eidgah mosque. When I was younger, he would be afraid I’d get lost in the crowd so he would carry me on his shoulders; I had the most beautiful view of the entire field, hundreds of people quietly making way in their white prayer hats and a blotch of colour in the distance — a few balloon salesmen circling the gates. I was 18 now, the prayers were done with and my father invited me over for breakfast. The necessity of an invitation said plenty — things had been different for a while. His house, which now smelt of chips, chocolates and baby powder, was now fully equipped with a fancy Macbook and high speed Internet. The apartment that was once my safe haven, my second home, was now home to new racks of DVDs. Tom and Jerry, 4 in 1 cartoon collections, 8 in 1 Hindi movie collections. Three copies of ‘A Beautiful Mind.’

Gone were the 3 am texts telling me he misses me. I wished him the best of luck, he didn’t need me to be happy (good luck watching the same movie thrice though Baba). I just wish he had told me himself, I had to find out about his marriage from some tabloid. We never spoke of it, time went by and we let it kill us from the inside. One day he asked me what my plans were for vacation, I casually said I had plans with my family. It took me a while to notice how hurt he was. Another day I called and said I was on his street. He said he wasn’t home. Out with his family. He didn’t notice how hurt I was.

I was 19, in university, everyone doing classes with me was at least a semester younger than I was. See, a few months back, my father was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. I dropped the ongoing semester at BRAC University as soon as I found out. My father had once mentioned, in passing, that he would love it if I went to Dhaka University. I spent the coming months studying for the entrance exam. As supportive as they were, my mother and my sisters told me it wasn’t the best idea, even if I passed the exam on such short notice I might not fit in. I wasn’t thinking about any of that, I was determined to get in. I rarely left the house, I studied seven to eight hours a day, it kept me busy. It gave me a sense of purpose. I couldn’t cure him but maybe I could make him proud. The results were out, I went to visit him. He smiled calmly when I told him I didn’t get in, shrugged it off. We shared a few laughs.

I picked up the next semester at BRAC, my father left the country for treatment. The news moguls had the prolific writer’s health covered through frequent updates. Some days they said he was getting better, other days he was doing worse. I would stop reading the articles before the line, they always ended the same — “He is residing in New York with his family…” I could take separation, I could handle divorce and I could take the news of cancer, but I never got used to feeling invisible. I felt broken and forgotten. Not a son, just a stranger reading up on a star.

He was back in Dhaka again after a long painful run of chemotherapy in New York. He called me and told me to come over, he mentioned having some things to say. There were a lot of people in his house. He was attending to them the entire night. I quietly paced around his house, I never liked crowds. It was getting late and the guests were leaving, he called me to one corner. I was shivering a little, I don’t think he noticed. He said he misses my sisters, and he should’ve stayed closer to them. I wondered if he had anything else to say, I waited. He started talking again, he spoke very slowly these days. He said he’s worried about his family, what would happen to them if he doesn’t make it. He said he can’t sleep at night, thinking about his two little sons and their future. He paused, I waited. It was a long pause. My heart stopped beating. I kept waiting until I finally realised what had happened, he had things to say, just not things to say to me. I turned around and left the house, slowly, hoping he would have something else to say. He didn’t. It wasn’t a pause. This was the last time I saw him.

Photo: Rittika AliPhoto: Rittika Ali

Winter came along, I was still 19. It was his birthday, he was still in New York. I wished him over a video-call. I couldn’t recognise him without his hair. Winter went by fast, it was my 20th birthday. I didn’t really do much. A friend of his showed up at my door with a cake. It didn’t say happy birthday. It was a plain chocolate cake that said, “Baba, I miss you.” It was a good day, I was happy. I was always happy with my strange little family.

Mid July that year, my sister woke me up. She said my father wouldn’t make it. He was in New York, unconscious in the ICU of a hospital there. She said he had an hour. After an hour, his bodily functions would stop and he would be declared dead. The house was eerily quiet. I almost lived this day before. I hated afternoon naps.

Whenever writers describe painful events they write things like, ‘It was all a blur’ or ‘everything just went by.’ Or sometimes, ‘I felt nothing.’ That hour took exactly an hour, time didn’t care. My sister got the call, she told me he was gone. There were no blur. No lapses in memory. I remember every detail that followed. I felt everything. I remember every text, every phone call.

I felt like I was born again. Born dead, empty. The next few days were meeting every friend, every acquaintance and every stranger; every girl you’ve ever loved, every girl you never knew love you, everyone who never cared and everyone who cared the most came and found me, looked into my eyes with all the sympathy, all the care they could muster and see nothing but emptiness on the other side. It’s not a wound, a separation, that mends and heals, it’s one that spreads and makes your body its home, your very own personal cancer.

It was early morning. They would bring him back from New York today, for his janajah and burial. Everyone was quietly getting ready. I woke up to find a white panjabi, nicely ironed and folded, left at a side of my bed. My sisters told me we would leave in half hour or so. I said nothing. They were about to head out, they were waiting for me to get ready. I came out of my room, they looked shocked. They said nothing for a while.

“Do you really want to wear that?”

I said nothing.

“You know…everyone’s going to be talking about this. You won’t like it. They are going to think — they are all going to think you’re trying to be Him-”

My other sister interrupted her and came up to hug me.

Motu, wear whatever you want. Whatever makes you happy. Whatever you think would’ve made him happy.” My sisters always called me things like Motu or Potka. I used to be a very chubby kid, the nicknames stuck.

My father’s death was a national phenomenon, a public phenomenon. The entire nation was mourning. The cameras flashed. There was no quiet, no moment alone. My final goodbyes to my father was being telecast live for the entire country to see. It didn’t matter. The crowds didn’t matter. This is where I wanted to be. The time had come for his janajah, the final prayers before his burial. All eyes were on us — me carrying him through the sea of people that filled the Eidgah mosque, reliving our tradition one last time. I carried him over my shoulders, he would never be lost.

This wasn’t the first time he left, but this time, I could carry his weight on my shoulders. This time, I knew who I was. That should’ve never mattered. I am his biggest fan, his harshest critic and his eldest son. I knew who I was. They all knew.

I’m 21 years old. I have lived a very privileged life, I’ve never had any complaints. I have an amazing mother, who understands me and supports me in whatever I do. I have the best sisters, and they all have their own children now, and being an uncle is great — a lot of fun, little to no responsibility. And I’m a proud son of a father who told the best stories. It’s a little strange how close we were despite all the odds, and it kills me to think of how we slowly grew distant. Whenever I’m alone and idle, my mind wanders off into its darkest corners, where a tiny voice whispers, telling me I was nothing but a hobby he distracted himself with till he found happiness. My lifelong journey for his approval shaped all my interests, habits, traits that never left. Made for him, but not enough for him. I never listened to that voice, his was always louder, my father and his stories. He wasn’t always there for me, but his stories were. And he loved me. I’m sure he did. And maybe we got distracted, maybe he found happiness and stopped being lonely, but see, no one can ever be replaced, you can’t take away love.

————————
Nuhash Humayun, a physics student in BRAC University, is the son of writer Humayun Ahmed.

What Still Remains?

By Arjun Janah in The Daily Poet

Whatever be your credo or belief,
At times, you’ll need some solace, some relief,
For that, on which you based your hopes and dreams,
Might be, in time, your aspiration’s thief.For who can live for long without a loss,
Or never, racked and torn, tormented, toss?
Whenever we may think we’ve mastered life,
It turns and swiftly shows us who’s the boss.

The very things for which we’ve labored, fought,
Have focused on and all the rest forgot,
Those things, as life unwinds, may turn to dust,
And all our strivings then be set to naught.

And what remains, when all appears amiss,
When we, who’ve labored long, are still remiss?
Remember then, there still remains the dawn,
And in the darkness, smile and blow a kiss.

And when a faker, in a tie and suit,
Demands accounting, in his mad pursuit,
Then bow and hand to him a chit, on which
It says, “We’ve quit the race, so all is moot.”

For when our life’s account is drawn and closed,
Then what remains, of all we once supposed
Was worth the life we offered as its price?
“This question,” we are told, “is poorly posed.”

What then remains is still the work we did,
Though this, with time, will be in cobwebs hid –
But more than that, and lasting still a while,
The love we offered, though we weren’t bid.

Though falsehoods live, while truth appears to die,
And most accede, and few still question why,
And though the cause appears as hopeless, still
The truth remains the truth, and not the lie.

Let all coercion and compulsion be
Dissolved by that, which lives within a tree
And makes its branches, in the sun, delight,
That joy that makes us each, for a moment, free.

So in the valley deep of sorrows, sigh,
But never, to your courage, say, “Goodbye.”
There lives, in us, the stillness and the fire,
And these will live, though you and I will die.

2013 December 6th, Fri.
Bensonhurst, Brooklyn

Ed: Arjun is the son of the legendary Indian photographer Sunil Janah. That was how I got to know him, but of course he has his own identity. He is a teacher in New York.

Collateral Damage

Raghu Rai/Magnum Photos

In 1971, the Pakistani Army had free rein to kill at least 300,000 Bengalis and force 10 million people to flee.

By

In the 40-odd years that America and the Soviet Union faced off in the cold war, the people who presumed to run the world started with the knowledge that it was too dangerous, and possibly even suicidal, to attack one another. But the struggle was fierce, and what that meant in practice was that the competition played out in impoverished places like Cuba and Angola, where the great statesmen vied, eyed and subverted one another, and sometimes loosed their local proxies, all in the name of maintaining the slippery but all-important concept known as the balance of power.

THE BLOOD TELEGRAM

Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide: The New York Times

By Gary J. Bass

The peace held, of course — that is, the larger peace. The United States and the Soviet Union never came to blows, and the nuclear-tipped missiles never left their silos. For the third world, where the competition unfolded, it was another matter entirely. The wreckage spread far and wide, in toppled governments, loathsome dictators, squalid little wars and, here and there, massacres so immense that entire populations were nearly destroyed.

In “The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide,” Gary J. Bass, a professor of politics at Princeton, has revived the terrible and little-known story of the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, and of the sordid and disgraceful White House diplomacy that attended it. This is a dark and amazing tale, an essential reminder of the devastation wrought by the hardhearted policy and outright bigotry that typified much of the diplomacy of the cold war. It is not a tale without heroes, though; a number of American diplomats — most especially a man named Archer Blood — risked and even sacrificed their careers by refusing to knuckle under to the White House and telling the truth about what was happening on the ground.

The story begins, as do so many in our modern world, with the end of the British Empire. In 1947, when the British quit India, they lopped off its majority Muslim flanks in the east and west. At the time, the partition unfolded in a frenzy of murder and expulsion, leaving a million people dead. Pakistan emerged as one of the largest countries in the world, but improbably divided into two parts by more than a thousand miles of Indian territory. When you look at a map from that time, you have to wonder what on earth the cartographers were thinking.

Pakistan carried on for 23 years like that, with the more numerous Bengalis in the east feeling increasingly neglected by their Punjabi brethren in the west, where the capital was. Things came to a head in December 1970, when Sheik Mujib-ur-­Rahman, a pipe-smoking Bengali leader, and his party, the Awami League, won the elections on the promise of autonomy for East Pakistan. (Whatever he wanted privately, he did not call for independence.) Rahman never got a chance to form a government. Gen. Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan, egged on by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the second-place finisher, arrested Rahman and ordered the army to crush the Bengalis. Dominated by Punjabis, the army moved brutally, shooting and detaining Bengali leaders, intellectuals and anyone who opposed them.

Enter the United States. At the time of the elections, Pakistan, though ruled by a military dictator, was an American ally with an American-equipped military; India, the giant democracy, considered itself nonaligned — a neutral player in the Soviet-American standoff. Given what was happening on the ground — the Pakistani Army acting wantonly, ignoring the results of an election — you might expect the White House to restrain the Pakistani generals. So one arrives at the devastating heart of Bass’s book. (Note: I have interviewed Bass and met him socially a couple of times.)

At the time of the crackdown in East Pakistan, President Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, were trying to establish relations with the People’s Republic of China, which was only then emerging from the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Nixon wanted desperately to extract the United States from Vietnam in something less than a catastrophic way and, as focused as ever on the Soviet Union, he and Kissinger believed that opening a channel to China could help them with the war while, at the same time, delivering a blow to the Soviets by exploiting their rivalry with the Chinese. Pakistan and, in particular, Yahya, its military leader, became Nixon’s secret liaison with the Chinese leader Zhou Enlai. Yahya helped lay the groundwork for the visits to China by Kissinger and then Nixon. It’s hard to overstate just how earth-changing Nixon and Kissinger regarded their trips to China — and how important they thought they were for bringing them about.

In practice, this meant that Yahya — a vain, shallow mediocrity — was suddenly considered indispensable, free to do whatever he wished in East Pakistan. With the White House averting its eyes, the largely Muslim Pakistani Army killed at least 300,000 Bengalis, most of them Hindus, and forced 10 million to flee to India. Bass lays out his indictment of the White House: Nixon and Kissinger spurned the cables, written by their own diplomats in Dacca (the capital of East Pakistan), that said West Pakistan was guilty of carrying out widespread massacres. Archer Blood, the counsel general in Dacca, sent an angry cable that detailed the atrocities and used the word “genocide.” The men in the White House, however, not only refused to condemn Yahya — in public or private — but they also declined to withhold American arms, ammunition and spare parts that kept Pakistan’s military machine humming. Indeed, Nixon regarded the dictator with genuine affection. “I understand the anguish you must have felt in making the difficult decisions you have faced,” he told Yahya.

The voices of Kissinger and Nixon are the book’s most shocking aspects. Bass has unearthed a series of conversations, most of them from the White House’s secret tapes, that reveal Nixon and Kissinger as breathtakingly vulgar and hateful, especially in their attitudes toward the Indians, whom they regarded as repulsive, shifty and, anyway, pro-Soviet — and especially in their opinion of Indira Gandhi. “The old bitch,” Nixon called her. “I don’t know why the hell anybody would reproduce in that damn country but they do,” he said.

These sorts of statements will probably not surprise the experts, but what is most telling is what they reveal about Nixon’s and Kissinger’s strategic intelligence. At every step of the crisis, the two men appear to have been driven as much by their loathing of India — West Pakistan’s rival — as by any cool calculations of power. By failing to restrain West Pakistan, they allowed a blood bath to unfold, and then a regional war, which began when Gandhi finally decided that the only way to stop the tide of refugees was to stop the killing across the border. That, in turn, prompted West Pakistan to attack India.

At this point, the recklessness of Nixon and Kissinger only got worse. They dispatched ships from the Seventh Fleet into the Bay of Bengal, and even encouraged China to move troops to the Indian border, possibly for an attack — a maneuver that could have provoked the Soviet Union. Fortunately, the leaders of the two Communist countries proved more sober than those in the White House. The war ended quickly, when India crushed the Pakistani Army and East Pakistan declared independence.

Nixon and Kissinger spent the decades after leaving office burnishing their images as great statesmen. This book goes a long way in showing just how undeserved those reputations are.

Dexter Filkins, a staff writer for The New Yorker, was formerly a correspondent in South Asia for The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times.

The rose is my qibla

POETIC VOICES of the MUSLIM WORLD
I am a Muslim:
The rose is my qibla.
The stream my prayer-rug,
the sunlight my clay tablet.
My mosque the meadow.
I rinse my arms for prayers
along with the thrum and
pulse of windows.
Through my prayers streams
the moon, the refracted
light of the sun.
SOHRAB SEPEHRI (1928-1980, IRAN), FROM WATER?S FOOTFALLTRANSLATED FROM THE FARSI BY KAZIM ALI WITH MOHAMMED JAFAR MAHALLATI