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Slices from Life

Nyaung Hnin Noodle

A vignette of life from Myanmar By San Lin Tun

Nyaung Hnin Noodle

The whole house was active preparing for my sister’s birthday who turned twenty that year.  The evening before, the family gathered to plan for the event, I heard she would invite her friends from school. They would come to our house around 9:30 am. Our house was located in downtown Yangon, a few minutes away from famous shopping center, Bogyoke Aung San Market (formerly known as Scott Market). Earlier, most of the streets’ names were buzzing with British nomenclature. But later, they reverted to Myanmar names because people did not fancy Anglicised names.

Mother called out, “Dear Thinza, have you finished making up yourself? Come out and help with these arrangements for your birthday.”

 Thinza replied, “Yes, mom, just a minute. I will be ready. Please ask Tun to help you a bit now.”

I was in my room, reading a book but I heard their conversations. I emerged from my room and went to the living room where mom was laying down tables to serve guests. When Mom saw me, she told, “Tun, honey, get inside the kitchen where your granny is preparing Nyaung Hnin noodle.”

As soon as I heard the word “Nyaung Hnin”, my mouth became watery and my appetite quickened. I did not know that mom would prepare Nyaung Hnin Noodle for my sister’s birthday. I thought at first that they would order some chicken and parata (flat bread made of flour) for the guests. But, in the last minute, they changed the plan.

I replied, “Sure, mom. I will go and help granny.”

When I entered the kitchen, granny was still cooking the noodle. I asked her, “Granny, is it almost finished? I am a bit hungry now.”

She smiled at me and patted my head gently. Looking at me cheerfully, she said, “You naughty boy! You are not supposed to help me, right? You want to eat it now?”

She was stirring the pot gently with a wooden ladle. The gravy was yellowish and I saw bits of chicken and some onions in the gravy which was boiling with bubbles appearing on its surface. Its smell was so good that I tried to suppress my taste buds. But, I could not control it and asked, “Granny, can I try some?”

Glancing at me with fake scorn, she scooped a spoonful of gravy and gave it to me. I put the spoon into my mouth after blowing off the steam and heat from the gravy. So tasty. I exclaimed, “Yummy!” and nodded my head several times with satisfaction. It was really delicious. Seeing the expression on my face, my granny smiled and asked me how the gravy was. Savouring the flavour, I nodded my head with approval.

Granny beamed a broad smile and said, “It will be ready in a few minutes. Just wait here.” She put some more ingredients into the gravy and stirred it gently again. The kitchen was full of the savoury smell of the gravy for the noodle.

As I wiped plates and spoons with a napkin, a thought came into my head. Although we had this noodle quite often, I did not know the story behind the noodle. Suddenly, I wanted to know the story.

My sister Thinza came into the kitchen just then.

“Huh, Tun, what are you doing here? You are supposed to be with mom.”

I replied, “No, mom told me to help granny. So, I came here.” After listening to my explanation, Thinza left the kitchen for the living room.

Then, I asked my grandmother. “Granny, we have been having this noodle for a long time. Do you know who invented this recipe, when and why?”

Looking at me strangely, Granny stopped her stirring for a while. “Huh, Tun. That’s a good question. Why are you asking this question so suddenly? You see, I am busy with this. I will tell you later. Give me a big bowl. I will pour the gravy into that bowl.”

Granny poured the gravy into the bowl and soon the bowl was filled up with the gravy. Granny unwrapped the flat noodles and put them into the plate. She tried to lay out everything such as fritters, chili powder, shredded onions, tamarind liquid in different plates and saucers.

There was a custom we followed to eat the Nyaung Hnin noodle. We needed to use our fingers to take noodle from the plate. They said that it would feel more flavourful that way. Another feature was that the noodle had to be yellow, not white. Normally, noodle was white in colour. I asked my granny, what made the noodle yellow. She replied that it was smeared with yellow ginger powder.

When all set, granny asked me to go and tell my mom. When I reached the living room, mom was already laid out four circular low tables. As soon as she saw me, she asked me to bring the cutlery in. I laid five plates for each table. Beside the plates, I put spoon and forks.

It was only for guests. For us, we would have the noodle with fingers. We knew that some of them found it inconvenient using their fingers while having the noodle.  Soon, Thinza’s friends came one after another. They exchanged greetings, giving her birthday presents. All of them were seated at their respective tables.

They conversed with each other and seemed very happy. Thiza was very pretty with her pink blouse and a nice trendy hairdo. Thinza was busy ladling the gravy into the plate in which noodle had been placed. She moved from one table to another.  Everyone liked it and they asked for more gravy and noodle.

It seemed that they enjoyed eating it. I felt proud that it our special family recipe. I wanted to know the story even more.

Meanwhile, my father came with a birthday cake. Thinza blew candles and everyone sang the birthday song.

They had cake and left. The birthday party ended around 11 a.m. Thinza asked for permission from our parents to go out with her friends. They wanted to see a new movie at the local theatre. My parents agreed and Thinza went out together with her friends.

I cleared up. My granny sat on her easy chair in the verandah of our apartment. The verandah overlooked a school compound with tall trees. It was quiet because it was school holiday.

I sat beside her and massaged her limbs. She looked at me and smiled. She knew I wanted the story. Lifting a cup of green tea to her mouth, she sipped a bit and cleared her throat and started her narrative.

Nyaung Hnin lived in a small village in an island called Balukyun which means ogre island. Actually, the word “Nyaung” is a Mon word and means “Aunty” which is a literal translation for the word. Normally for a Myanmar woman takes “Daw” which is an honourable title for a lady or a woman in seniority. The village’s name was “Tawkanar” which was a Mon word. There were over sixty villages in the island and it was peopled by mainly the Mon.

They grew paddy and fish because their island was surrounded by the fast-flowing Thanlyin River which flows into Andaman Sea. Nyaung Hninn lived very close to my granny’s house and was related to her. Nyaung Hnin was five years older than my granny. Before she started selling noodle in the village, she was a rice broker.

She normally went up to Mawlamyine, a port city across the island to sell paddy. It was in socialist times and the business of the port was booming and thriving because of the goods smuggled from Thailand. Back in early 19th century, British settled in that port city and we knew that even George Orwell, a well-known British writer, then known as Eric Blair had his aunt in that port city.

A view of Mawlamyine

Nyaung Hnnin’s business prospered till her husband died in a shipwreck. Out of sadness and despair, she stopped working. She was jobless until one day she found the recipe when she cooked this noodle. She had been interested in cooking from a young age. Mawlamyine women or Mon women had excellent cooking skills.

One day, Nyaung Hnnin prepared a noodle curry. While cooking, she put some ingredients which would go well with the curry. She stirred the curry a while. It became less watery and started to thicken. It seemed a kind of normal noodle curry.

But, she changed a little bit of ingredients creating a new dish of her own. She poured the gravy into the small bowl in which flat noodle was put. She put some pounded pea, a small spoon of tamarind, a pinch of chili powder. She stirred all well. She tasted it. It was so delicious.

Then, she thought of selling the noodle in the village as snacks. She could sell it in the morning, afternoon and early evening. They would love it. She was pleased with the thought.

Granny stopped for a while to sip her green tea again. She carried on, “Later, she taught me how to cook it after I asked her the way to prepare the noodle. People in the village simply called her noodle ‘Nyaung Hnin Noodle’. They liked her noodle very much. So, they gave it a name and so it went with her proper name. She started selling it in 1970s. So, it’s nearly fifty years now. But she passed away in 1980s.”

Nodding my heads to her recount, I visualized the image of Nyaung Hnin and her features. She might have been as thin as my granny who was active and mindful in everything. She loved cooking too. I thought that she might have had the same sentiments as my granny — to feed people with goodwill and they wanted people to have good food.

I realised that our family recipe came down from our cousin-grandmother and the recipe was not much known outside of our family and some village relatives. But we still enjoyed having the noodle. Time and her struggles only added to the flavour.

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San Lin Tun is a freelance writer of essays, poetry, short story and novel in Myanmar and English. His publications have appeared in several magazines such as Asia Literary Review, Kitaab, NAW, PIX, Mad in Asia Pacific, Mekong Review, Ponder Savant and others. He is the author of a novel “An English Writer.”

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How green was our valley!

By Ratnottama Sengupta

Panoramic view of Fatima Devi High School, around 1960

Dwiref Bhai was Shubhu Da’s friend; Alka was mine. So whenever Alka and I quarrelled — which we still do — I would tell Shubhu to tell Dwiref to give her a sound scolding.

“Hmm!” he’d reply.

What did that mean? I had no doubt that it meant “Sure.”

And sure enough they did no such thing. So next we met, Alka and I were friends again — which we have been for six decades and more, through high water and low, with the entire families of the Mehtas, Ghoshs and then Senguptas too.

Fatima Devi English High School existed in Malad East even before Kanaklata and Nabendu Ghosh* moved in to 2 Pushpa Colony. I was born in 1955 with that address. Rashmikant Mehta and Family moved in to ‘Kshitij Kunj’ some years later. The neighborhood was a cluster of Goan style bungalows that were home to Sequieras and Marchons, to Jenny Aunty and Hubert, to Paul Mahendra, Tarun Bose and Madhup Sharma – actors, all three – to the Chopras, Kashmiris, Khemanis, Bhatias, Mohan, Anthony, George… Together we have consigned to flames so many Auld Lang Syne on New Year Eves. Among so many abiding memories that bind this assortment of Indian lives, the strongest one is of our Holis. The toli or band would start somewhere with the Sharmas and the Chopras carrying gulal*, the Mahendras and Marchons would join in as the group stopped at the Mehtas, wound their way down the tiny colony and finished at 2 Pushpa Colony — gorging on sweets at every pause to smear colours and share joi de vivre. Years down, when we grew up, we would bunch into cars, drive down to Marve or Aksa Beach and dip into the Arabian Sea to add tan to the pink and green gulals on our faces. Jaane kahan gaye woh din… where have those days disappeared!

‘The road to a friend’s house is never too long’ — read the legend on a porcelain vase I had got for Alka from my first visit to UK. That legend captured the essence of our bonding. Both our families flanked Fatima Devi. But, while Dwiref, Kshitij, Alka and Spandana went to that very school — part of which was housed in the Mehta mansion — Subhankar and I went to school in Dadar. This arrangement was to ensure that we would grow up with some knowledge of Bengali, a language that had been enriched with the literary outpouring of Nabendu Ghosh.

So, every day it was almost 6 pm by the time I was back from school — and nearing 7 — when I showed up in the Mehta household. That happened to be their dinner time: the four siblings would sit around the kitchen table for the hot rotis and mouth-watering sabzis, vegetables cooked savoury with spices which  Prafulben Mehta — Aunty — would whisk off the tawa. Quietly she would put another plate on the table and hungrily I would polish off whatever was dished out. And, with a serious face, Dwiref Bhai would adjust his glasses, look meaningfully at the plate and ask, “Uttama, how do you manage to time the clock so perfectly?”

Looking back at that table in my mind’s eye, I now sigh. I wish I could manage to turn the clock back in time too. How I long for those dhoklas and vadas, khandvis and chhoondas, spiced up with the comments baked in camaraderie!

Dwiref and Shubhu did not study in the same school but playmates they were all along. So, rather than exchange homework and classwork, they were always indulging in the give-n-take of comics. That is how I got my first lessons in the intricate history of World War II. That is how I got acquainted with the Phantom, ‘Mr Walker’. That is how Archie and Betty and Veronica also became our ‘friends’.

Dwiref and Kshitij, brothers two, were divergent in their looks and in their style too. If the demeanor of the elder brother took after the Bollywood dancing hero Shammi Kapoor, Kshitij tailored his ways after the dashing heartthrob of 1960s, Shashi Kapoor. This dawned on me when I took to writing on films in 1970s. Shubhu had by then graduated from the Film & Television Institute of India — so Cinema was the constant topic of conversation at 2 Pushpa Colony. I came to realize that Rashmikant Uncle and Anil Kaka also had style models in two earlier matinee idols — Rahman and Guru Dutt!!

While Kshitij took over the mantle of a highly revered Criminal Lawyer from the Senior Mehta brothers, Dwiref Bhai became a doctor — like my own elder sibling Dipankar. I couldn’t, however, benefit from his knowledge of medicine: he travelled to the East Coast of America; I, to the Eastern metropolis of Calcutta. Seldom did we chance to meet even on our holidays in Bombay. But on my first visit to New York, Dwiref’s name was there in my ‘must visit’ list, right next to the Statue of Liberty, Time Square, Lincoln Center, MOMA, WTC, Smithsonian, and Krishna Reddy. Unfortunately, while I could personally catch up with the other names, I had to rest content with a telephonic chat with Dwiref Bhai: the doctor had turned patient and was not fit to travel out of his apartment.

Even then, I did not gauge the severity of his ill health. But, then, did I gauge that for my Dadabhai* either? This calendar year, circa 2020 has snatched away both our elder brothers. Is that fair, Alka? But today we are not quarrelling. Today, in grief, we are enjoined — the Mehtas and the Ghoshs.

*Nabendu Ghosh was a well-known writer and Bollywood script writer and director. Ratnottama Sengupta is his daughter.

*Gulal – dry colours which are smeared on friends during the festival of colours in India, Holi.

*Dadabhai – Elder brother

Ratnottama Sengupta turned director with And They Made Classics, on the unique bonding between screenwriter Nabendu Ghosh and director Bimal Roy. A very senior journalist, she has been writing for newspapers and journals, participating in discussions on the electronic media; teaching mass communication students, writing books on cinema and art, programming film festivals and curating art exhibitions. She has written on Hindi films for the Encyclopaedia Britannica; been a member of CBFC, served on the National Film Awards jury and has herself won a National Award. The former Arts Editor of The Times of India is also a member of the NFDC’s script committee. Author of Krishna’s Cosmos and several other volumes, she has recently edited That Bird Called Happiness (2018/ Speaking Tiger), Me And I (2017/ Hachette India), Kadam Kadam (2016/ Bhashalipi), Chuninda Kahaniyaan: Nabendu Ghosh (2009/ Roshnai Prakashan).

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Baudelaire and Paris

By Sunil Sharma

Gustave Caillebotte. Paris Street, Rainy Day, 1877. 

I

Modern Paris was discovered by Baudelaire in his avatar as the flaneur. And Walter Benjamin made this figure intellectually respectful as a field of study.

In a recent visit to Paris, I hovered between two allied states of being a flaneur and a gawking tourist. I had come as a sightseer from Mumbai, India, allured by the tales and well-crafted image of a mythic Paris, drinking in the street flavours on those May days, passively registering the wide monuments and boulevards and palaces and towers in one clean and clear sweep — almost like a wide-angle shot in a Stanley Kubrick film. Spring had set in and the Paris of May 2014 was full of eager tourists from nations as wide apart as China and the USA; Africa and Middle East and Latin America. A bouquet of the ethnicities strung together.

Then, I became a flaneur, making a neat switch, in a single instant.

I became Baudelaire.

Different terms can make you look differently at a similar set of things or a common setting.

Of course, I did not have the urge to write a new millennium version of The Flowers of Evil. At best, you can parody a sacred text but you cannot re-write it, howsoever Borges-like you might be.

I am neither of the two.

Like Mallarme and Verlaine, you can carry forward an idea by expanding it further but cannot imitate with complete fidelity to the original.

So, not in a mood for a cheap replication of a master praised by Proust so profusely, I took on the stance of a flaneur and became a connoisseur of the street-life.

Was it possible?

Assuming the role of a figure long dead or supposed to be dead? Replaced by a tourist? Solo or in a group?

Armed with a camera or a cell phone, in casuals, the modern tourist — guided by brochures and online information and a city map — looks at the urban skyline vicariously familiarized by prior research. Or, could it be at a professional polyglot guide spewing bits and pieces of history like a typical street performer or an amateur actor? A mass tourist consuming the city, architecture, culture, food, arts and clothes — public life — in a predictable way and sequence largely decided by the tourist industry. A few breaks are possible in that routine.

But to resurrect the role and agency of the classic flaneur, you have to take on a different position and way of seeing.

And what was that?

I could not become a dandy—detached, arrogant, inheritor of a small fortune, an idler walking a tortoise on a Paris street of the nineteenth century. Even if I had the means, I could get arrested for an act of animal cruelty!

Those were different times!

So what can be done?

The clues lie in The Flowers of Evil, perhaps.

Will this title be acceptable today? With changing definitions of evil? With life becoming more liberal and open?

Baudelaire was a dandy and a cultivated flaneur—the painter of modern life; a gentleman stroller of the city streets. Part of, yet apart from, the crowds.

But then, not every dandy is a flaneur and every flaneur, a dandy?

Again, dandy is a historical invention, a social-engineering, manufacturing of a social type for a particular age.

Perhaps, a metro-sexual male, now no longer fashionable.

Is he a voyeur?

Perhaps, we all are, given the nature of our society.

Or, a keen participant, an acute observer, a chronicler?

For me, the answer lies in the personality of Charles Baudelaire who in turn was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe. But that would be complicating things further.

Let us stick to our central figure Baudelaire. His genius lies in radicalizing the trope of the French flaneur. A theme that fascinated Walter Benjamin who, in the twentieth century, tried to essay the same role performed so well by Baudelaire in the industrialized Paris of the nineteenth century. The former could not capture the underlying passion of Baudelaire in this unfinished project.

In fact, by the late 1990s and start of the 21st century, author-flaneur proved an impossible figure.

Market forces, on global level, have incorporated author as a producer of kitsch or dystopia. Dissidents were slowly and subtly disenfranchised.

We are all sellers!

Baudelaire resisted this initial process in Paris. Beckett was next. Sartre and Camus too tried.

Then the flow stopped.

The Flowers of Evil mounts a challenge to the order and morality of the Second Republic.

The poems challenge the bourgeois morality and conception of order and beauty and aesthetics in a radical way. The book talks of evil and implies that the source of evil lies in its origins — capitalism.

In that simple gesture of observing, participating, recording of street life, Baudelaire liberates himself from his historical position and becomes a true artist. By talking of prostitutes and vampires, the poet shows the underbelly of capitalism. His creations provide the material basis for highlighting these themes and give credence to outcasts from the system that feed on the blood of the innocent and the gullible.

The Flowers of Evil is the greatest indictment of the French bourgeoisie by a person deeply embedded in it as a bourgeois but a radical one that unveils the brutal face of a system that once talked of revolutionary slogan of liberty, equality, fraternity!

An evil society can produce evil flowers!

Vampires are for real!

II

That Baudelaire had not died in 2014 was proven on a street near the Eiffel Tower on that memorable trip.

A Roma girl, bold and audacious, stole my son’s cell phone from his shirt pocket. She returned it after a cop intervened.

I could smell evil in the air. The disenfranchised and the ethnic Roma are still the threat — like the prostitute and the vampire, the perpetual outsiders.

The Paris of Baudelaire is not safe.

The shoot-out at the Charlie Hebdo proves that.

The vampires are out.

This time round, Baudelaire the flaneur has disappeared. There is no one to warn us of these sinister presences.

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Sunil Sharma, an academic administrator and author-critic-poet–freelance journalist, is from suburban Mumbai, India. He has published 22 books so far, some solo and some joint, on prose, poetry and criticism. He edits the monthly, bilingual Setu: http://www.setumag.com/p/setu-home.html
For more details of publications, please visit the link below:
http://www.drsunilsharma.blogspot.in/

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What waits for Rohingyas?

By Saifur Rahman Saif

Rohingya people, who have no identity of their own, are now facing another danger. The pandemic of COVID-19 took away one of the Rohingyas, who found shelter at a camp at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh on the wake of genocide in their own land in Myanmar.

United News of Bangladesh reported that the man died from coronavirus infection while undergoing treatment at the isolation centre at Ukhiya camp in Cox’s Bazar on Monday night.

Referring to Abu Toha MRH Bhuiyan, who works as a health coordinator at the Refugee, Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, the news agency stated that the deceased could not be identified immediately but he was a 71-year-old man.

It was the first confirmed case of death of a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is now home for over one million Rohingyas, who fled atrocities in Myanmar to Bangladesh.

In my earlier article in  Countercurrents, I tried to draw attention of the world community so that they would come forward to save Rohingyas from probable contamination of COVID -19. I don’t know whether anybody heard my appeal. In fact, the Rohingyas are no longer safe now from the devastation of COVID-19. We don’t know what is waiting for the densely populated Rohingyas. I also don’t know who will save Rohingyas from further deaths? Is it the Bangladesh government or the world community?

Super power USA is now facing manifold adversity- destructions of COVID-19, street demonstrations across the country and, so on. Many other powerful countriesare also in peril today. And Bangladesh, with 709 confirmed case of death from COVID-19 and 52,445 infected, is has failed to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The Gono Forum came up with the allegation on Tuesday as its president Kamal Hossain and general secretary Reza Kibria in a joint statement said that although World Health Organisation on March 11 declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the government announced general holidays in the last week of the month.

They also said that although Bangladesh had enough time to determine national strategy, the government failed to implement a fruitful strategy, New Age reported.

The Gono Forum leaders said that the rate of COVID-19 tests in the country was very low and people had no confidence on government’s information on COVID-19 infections and deaths.

They also said that the late announcement of public holiday amid relaxation put impacted people’s lives negatively as it failed to control the infections.

They said that only a small part of government aids reached to the poor and vulnerable due to corruption and inefficiency while lakhs of labourers and working class people faced unemployment.

The leaders said that withdrawal of public holidays ignoring recommendations of national technical advisory committee had created much anxiety among the people and the situation was worsening for the lack of adequate number of tests and mismanagement in the health sector.

In this situation, I cannot think of a future for the Rohingyas, at least not the kind I really wished for.

Saifur Rahman Saif is a Bangladeshi journalist. He works at New Age, a popular newspaper. He contributed a story in Freelance Success Stories published simultaneously from the USA and Canada. He can be reached at saifnewage@gmail.com

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First Published in Countercurrents.org

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Unbowed, She Stayed

By Bhaskar Parichha

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Muta Maathai

Born in Nyeri, Kenya, in 1940, she died in Nairobi in 2011. Wangari Muta Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, which has  — through networks of rural women — has planted over 30million trees.

Africa’s future has been the subject of fierce debate with the international media: full of warnings about environmental and economic collapse.

True, development workers continue to create hypothetical solutions to the problems they see, yet with little effect and much controversy. While these outsiders haggle over projections and prophecies, Africans had been working on a variety of small, grassroots projects, which they believe, might change the course of their future.

The Green Belt movement is one such project which has been creating and recreating history. It is so easy, in the modern world, to feel disconnected from the physical Earth!

Despite dire warnings and escalating concern over the state of our planet, many feel out of touch with the natural world. But, the Green Belt organization — which has planted millions of trees throughout East Africa in order to provide sources of fuel, food, and a way to stop soil erosion and environmental degradation — is one example of an indigenous movement working to influence Africa’s ecology.

When Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, she began a poor people’s environmental movement, focused on the empowerment of women that soon spread across Africa.

She spent decades working with the Movement to help women in rural Kenya plant—and sustain—millions of trees. With their hands in the dirt, these women found themselves empowered and “at home” in a way they never did before.

Maathai wanted to impart that feeling to everyone and believed that the key lies in traditional spiritual values: love for the environment, self-betterment, gratitude and respect, and a commitment to service.

While educated in the Christian tradition, Maathai drew inspiration from many faiths, celebrating the Jewish mandate ‘tikkun olam‘ (repair the world) and renewing the Japanese ‘termmottainai‘ (don’t waste).

Through rededication to these values, she believed Kenyan women could finally bring about healing for themselves and the Earth. Unrelenting through run-ins with the Kenyan government and personal losses, and jailed and beaten on numerous occasions, Maathai continued to fight tirelessly to save Kenya’s forests and to restore democracy to her beloved country.

The Green Belt Movement became the inspiring story of people working at the grassroots level to improve their environment and their country. Their story offered ideas about a new and hopeful future for Africa and the rest of the world. Besides being a native writer, Wangari Maathai was also a parliamentarian.

In 2002, she was elected to Kenya’s Parliament in the first free elections in a generation. In2003, she was appointed Deputy Minister for the Environment and natural resources.

However, worldwide recognition came her way when she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2004. In 2009; she was appointed a United Nations Messenger of Peace. This Nobel Peace Prize laureate recounts her extraordinary journey from her childhood in rural Kenya to the world stage in her autobiography Unbowed: A Memoir.

 Her trailblazing story illustrates how African women are striding out.

Infused with her unique luminosity of spirit, Wangari Maathai’s remarkable story of courage, faith, and the power of persistence is destined to inspire generations to come.

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Bhaskar Parichha is a Bhubaneswar-based  journalist and author. He writes on a broad spectrum of  subjects , but more focused on art ,culture and biographies. His recent book ‘No Strings Attached’ has been published by Dhauli Books. 

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Notes from Balochistan: Volunteers for humanity

By: Ali Jan Maqsood

Blood Donation Camp set up by volunteers during COVID 19 restrictions

Pakistan, like many parts of the world, has announced a lockdown in most of the country. In some of the cities, however, there is a partial lockdown. The district Kech in Balochistan is partially locked down (from morning till five in the evenings with essential services still open like groceries, vegetables, banks, medical stores etc). However, all of the educational institutions will remain closed till May 31, with a warning that the date may be extended, depending on future developments.

Kech suffers from a great many medical services issues as the government gives very little attention to the affairs of the civil hospital. These have been further slowed down by the corona scare. On the other hand, Kech contains a number of — 286 — registered patients of thalassemia who need blood transfusion on a regular basis (some after every 15 to 20 days and the rest on monthly basis). The district does not own a single blood bank. Despite having three Members of Provincial Assembly (MPA) from the district with a Member of National Assembly (MNA), the need to build a blood bank in the district has not been addressed.

However, for the patients, a team of a social workers from Kech arranged a blood donation camp in the nearby tehsil of Buleda (about an hour and half of travel from Turbat) in order to collect blood for the needy thalassemia patients during the lockdown. Luckily, they got a good response from the locals of Buleda. The camp was set in Ruzhn School Mainaz Buleda under the support of Mr Zahoor Ahmed, the principal of Ruzhn school, and Mr Irshad Arif, a working faculty of Syed Hashmi High School Turbat and founder of Kech Blood Donors Team.

“A great many people supported us during the blood donation camp. I did not expect this kind of crowd since mostly people fear donating blood, but I am really amazed looking at such spirit from the people here, ” says Mr Arif in gratitude to the local people of Buleda. “I am wholeheartedly thankful to Mr Zahoor Ahmed for his kind help in our drive and all the people of Buleda for donating blood with high spirit.”

The principal of Ruzhn School Buleda was pleased looking at the youngsters doing their best to serve humanity. He said he was honoured to be part of the drive and had much hopes from the volunteers. “I was told they (Kech Blood Donors Team) were coming. I thought what would be more beautiful than to getting a chance to give your best to doing something for humanity in this very critical time,” Mr. Ahmed added

The blood camp got a huge number of donors. The team met their target only in four hours. However, many locals were rejected when they came forward to donate blood as they were considered unfit. They stood the whole time only in the hope they would be called back to give blood, added Murad Jan, a volunteer of the team.

The locals of Buleda have always helped when it came to do something for the people of the province. In such a critical time as the children affected by thalassamia are on the verge of death, they have showed their kindness by arranging the blood camps and supporting it to their best.

It is often said “Saving one human life is equal to saving the entire humanity.” The locals of Buleda proved it with their passion to help children fight death.

Despite the generosity of the residents, the government still needs to plan for a blood bank and a thalassemia centre in the district. Health is one of the basic needs that needs to be addressed. The people cast their precious votes and help politicians win elections, it is now their turn to pay back the community by providing basic facilities.

The writer is a student of Law at University Law College Quetta and a former teacher at DELTA in Turbat. He can be reached at alijanmaqsood17@gmail.com and tweets at @Alijanmaqsood12

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author and not of Borderless Journal.

Categories
Essay Musings Slices from Life

Stray Musings – ‘Love at the time of corona’, as it were!

By Debraj Mookerjee

Those familiar with the cult author Ayn Rand (she of The Fountainhead fame) will possibly remember her somewhat sobering thoughts on love: “After a point, YOUR LOVE for a person becomes more important than the object of love” (Capitalisation mine). What is love, or the easier poser: What do we make of the idea of love? That love is a compelling emotion, which is perfectly democratic and non-discriminating in affecting the bright and the otherwise, the poor and the rich, the old and the young and so on is an incontrovertible fact. Its universality does, ipso facto, predicate on some common streak that runs through humanity. Is it the innate desire, an almost mammalian need, to copulate and propagate that stirs us into “loving” another, as a prelude as it were to pairing, and therefore mating and procreating and so on? Or is it some deep insecurity within, of a feeling of incompleteness till we have loved or are loved? Or is it just a reflection of the great human propensity to possess; more precisely to call things our own, to be comfortable only when what we desire, that is what we consider of worth, is ours for keeps, like the valuables we stash in our bank lockers?

To begin with, we ought to take a look at the popular rhetoric encountered in our representational sphere of reference to understand how love, though imagined as something special, is as much a commodity as anything else. Why do we say, for example, things like “he (or she) belongs to me”, “I wish to belong to her”, “I could not belong to anyone”, “I want her bad”, “Gosh, I can’t live if I can’t have her”, and so on and so forth? If love were so noble, or even selfless as it is often made out to be, why should it make us want to own the object of love unless it be to serve as a perpetual reminder of the great feeling of love that we have experienced for that object? It is as though our love would crumble to dust should the one we love not be ours forever. And we thought love was an abstract idea!

So let’s test the proposition with a hypothetical (though perfectly credible) situation. You say you love somebody. Now that somebody loves you well, after a manner, you know; loves you but is not in love with you, whatever. Here the balance is delicate. You can’t stop loving that person because you know her (or his) love could grow with time. Unless you keep professing your love, how can you fuel whatever spark she (or he) has for you, right?

Over a period in time, she may not progress beyond her incipient leanings. At some critical juncture, you have to take the decision on whether to let go of your love for her (or him) or push just that little bit more. What is this game, ask yourself? If this is love, fine, so it is, but let’s not pretend and suggest it is some elevated concept that can only be experienced at a heightened level of consciousness. The processes that it goes through is no different from the ones you adopt before deciding to buy a pair of pyjamas – is it good, is it worth the price, how much can I beat the price down to, and of course, how long will it last?

Love therefore, is not an abstract idea. QED. It is an idea though because we don’t know what it is. Probably it is nothing really, at least nothing tangible. But that does not make it abstract. The only way to know it is to register all the things we build around it and what we do with it. It is somewhat like the honour pupils earn in a boy’s school for pissing highest against a wall. The honour means little. It does not guarantee against urinary problems in later life, no does it confirm sexual prowess, but the effort to earn that honour is tangible.

To return to Ayn Rand, and the big question: Is most of what has to do with love merely a role? An assertion of what we can or must or should do to express our love. And what do you think would remain imprinted on the mind – our efforts or the object of love? Come on be honest; of course, we’d value our love more than the loved one.

But all these theories pertain to love that has to do with the desire to own. Love that does not demand, love that is not fixated on one person, love that is not possessive or centred on one’s singular desires comprise another kettle of fish. This is the sort of love that you can shower on so many people at the same time. Where you remain a free agent, and so does the person you love. And each of these loves can have sanctity. Because there is no sense of possession tied to such love it seldom unwinds, unlike the other type that tends to come apart when the tangible grounds for its existence seem to come unstuck.

The Czechoslovak writer Milan Kundera once spoke of two types of love – lyrical and epical – with reference to men. In the former, you see all women in one woman, and in the latter, you see one woman in all women. One liked the concept when one was young (that’s why the quote is remembered). Not anymore. Real love is ‘topical’ love, as it were, where you see all women (or men really) in every woman (or man). Anyway, the more you love, the more love there is that goes around. Philosophically, that sounds better than ‘winning’ somebody in love, as though the person were some prize catch!

And no, this piece has nothing to do with the virus. Of course, it’s possible that thoughts of mortality urge the mind to come clean on vexed conundrums, none more twisted than the subject of love. It circles the context of the writer’s consciousness because everybody is thinking corona, but it does not (in his opinion) contaminate his thoughts. Except to the extent that he could not help adding it to the title, unapologetically, and admittedly gratuitously!

Debraj Mookerjee has taught in Ramjas College at the University of Delhi for close to three decades, with specialised interests in Literary Theory, cultural studies, and popular fiction, especially SF. He is also a columnist, writing on culture politics and society, apart from food history. Mookerjee likes to travel and curate life and its myriad complexities. He is deeply interested in  exploring alternative pedagogies, because he feels higher education should unleash academic creativity and not constrain scholarship through enforced regimentation.