When the first shadows of the evening caught up with him, Khursheed was sprawled on the floor of his mud-and-stone hut trying to write a love poem. Getting one’s hands on ink and paper in 10th century Persia was no easy task but, being a saqi, Khursheed made sure to offer the first morning's helpings of fresh water from the large clay pot he hauled daily on his back to the imam of the neighborhood mosque. That helped. It did not hurt his pockets either to chase men on their way home after a night at the pub. Shiraz was known for its good, strong wines and a sip of cool, fresh water after a night of drinking was handsomely rewarded. But for this, he had to hurry to the spring he frequented to fill his zeer before it got dark. Early on, when Khursheed took over the trade from his father, he chose the furthest watering hole from their village to service his clients from. His father berated him saying that by the time Khursheed got around to bringing his haul into town, all the other saqis would have sold their water and no one would be thirsty anymore. But Khursheed knew better. He had discovered that water spring many years ago while still a young boy. He was at that age when young boys long to discover the world and throw down markers for future reference. And that discovery served him well. It was a summer day and he had strayed away from his friends, walking aimlessly. Khursheed was getting tired and looked around for a place to rest when he noticed a deer treading carefully towards a clearing between mounds of sand and stone. He followed it, quietly, and saw the watering hole. Khursheed waited until the animal had its fill and then approached, shooing it away. It was hot and he was thirsty but that water tasted like no other. Khursheed was not smart but he knew people would pay money to drink it. And he became the town’s best saqi. But now it was beginning to get dark and he had to hurry. He did not want a repeat incident with Ghafla. The ghoulah typically frequented the spring after sunset to have her last drink before going to sleep till dawn. Once, Khursheed was late and she caught him filling his zeer. She lurched at him and with one swoop he was in her mouth struggling to free himself from between her massive teeth. After what seemed to Khursheed like an eternity, she spat him out and he flew for two and a half hours before he fell into a green lush. Khursheed thought that the ghoulah must have felt sorry for him and did not eat him, what with his bad leg and one good eye. He knew that monsters have a certain empathy for human frailty; after all, they were not always monsters. But still, better not test his luck twice with Ghaflah. Khursheed’s hand began to tremble as he started writing his poem to Najla, his beloved: Gentle breath of dawn, smiling eye of sunrise, whose heart will it be today when a whiff of your jasmine hair dances along your footsteps in our narrow streets? How many stars follow you home every night and how many moons beg your pardon every time their light touches your cheek? Khursheed folded the paper carefully and shoved it in his sharwal. He will show it to the imam first thing in the morning when he hands him his cup of fresh water and solicit his input and advice on future action with Najla. Hopefully, it will not earn him a smack on the head like last time. ----- Saqi -an Arabic word denoting the old profession of someone who hauls water on his back in a large clay pot and sells it to passersby by the cupful. Zeer -an Arabic word describing a large clay pot used to store and cool water. Ghaflah -an Arabic word for negligence and heedlessness, also means short nap, used here as a name for a female ghoul. Ghoul -a mythological monster or demon that dwells in burial grounds and other uninhabited places (ghoulah is the female noun). Najla -an old Arabic name for a female with wide, beautiful eyes. Sharwal -loose fitting and baggy cloth trousers.
Jul 12, 2022 · 4 min read
The Power of Ideas
In the mid 1980s, Bill Moyers, the former White House Press Secretary, conducted half hour interviews with thinkers and specialists of various disciplines. The series was entitled A World of Ideas and ran on PBS. Interviewees shared thoughts and perceptions specific to their specialities in ways that made it easy for the average person to relate to complicated fields of knowledge, and in manners that illustrated how powerful ideas have cross cutting applications. Powerful ideas are not only relevant to specific fields of knowledge. Because of their compelling philosophical underpinnings and deeply embedded logic, powerful ideas transcend sectoral boundaries and are of use in multiple settings and contexts. Over the years, I have come to think not only of ideas but also of the utility of ideas. How a powerful idea that I have come to know can help me better understand the world, myself and those around me. And how this improved understanding can make my existence in this life more effective, to me and to others. Some ideas and concepts I learned of more than 30 years ago are still strongly with me. Maslow's concept of self actualization and Naisbitt's high tech/high touch formula are amongst these. I do not know who first said that one’s freedom ends where the freedom of another starts, but I first heard this phrase in high school in the 1970s in Jordan, in an Arabic literature class. The idea of how different individuals and cultures manage boundaries and relate to the space around them (all kinds of space - physical, political, economic, intellectual, cultural, etc.) is a powerful one. I leaned on this idea in a previous posting on this scribe entitled Why Immigration, As We Have Come To Know It, No Longer Works. Perhaps the most powerful idea I have learned of so far is the way Joseph Campbell viewed religions. Campbell was one of Moyers’ interviewees and that series was entitled The Power of Myth . Campbell’s rendition of religions sharing common powerful ideas led him to the conclusion that there is basically one religion explained to different peoples using different metaphors and parables. I think it was Czesław Miłosz who said that a powerful idea is stronger than all the machinations of the state. It is also stronger than all the machinations of the self. We do not always welcome the encounter of powerful ideas, especially when they challenge our assumptions about reality. But if reality is constantly changing, aren’t we supposed to utilize powerful ideas to adjust our assumptions about reality, so we do not crash into a wall?
Jul 19, 2022 · 3 min read
Is it fair to say that we live on borrowed time? To use the concept of borrowing to describe living implies that we took something and have to give it back at some point. In reality, we do not give back our lives after we are done with them. Our lives are more like gifts or grants that we receive and consume to the last drop. And we don't know when that last drop will trickle down. It is not unreasonable to be struck by a sense of panic or despair when we comprehend the fact that life is short. Iris Murdoch pointed out how difficult it is to acknowledge the inevitability of death. And perhaps it is obscene, as Simone de Beauvoir said, that by the time we understand what life is all about, it is over. When one's life is full of beauty and love, the heart is young and the spirit is eager; the burden is lightened. For some, when the quest is over, so is the journey, especially if one's life has had more than its fair share of pain. Frida Kahlo thought so. She also hoped that the exit will be joyful and that she never returns. Others believe in an afterlife and this helps them deal with the reality of the ending of this one. A belief in an afterlife can be a motivator to do good in the here and now. It can also lead to lethargy and inaction or violence and bloodshed. Like any of life's profound concepts, this one too is a double edged sword. How to live our lives is what humanity has been struggling with for millennia. Religions, philosophies, and various schools of thought centered around unearthing and cultivating the good that is inherent within us and taming the evil that seems to have taken permanent residence in our world. Our perceptions of what is good and evil continue to clash and when we are busy feeding and clothing the ones in our care, we do not have enough time left to ponder. We pass the torch on to another generation and hope that their path is less cluttered.
Aug 2, 2022 · 2 min read
Life is sacrifice. As we go through life, we tend to give up something for another. Whether we are aware of this or not is another story. The practice of sacrifice is found in the oldest human records and is common to most religions and cultures. Our ancestors used to offer animals, plants, material possessions or human life to deities in exchange for some gain or benefit. As such, the act involved the surrender or destruction of something precious for the sake of attaining or retaining another that enjoyed a higher value - material or otherwise. Somewhat surprisingly, or perhaps not, the Latin origin of the verb sacrifice means to make something sacred. Joseph Campbell’s explanation of marriage in terms of sacrifice is noteworthy. Campbell states that the main objective of marriage is not the birth of children or the raising of families. He invokes the image of marriage as being an ordeal in which the ego is sacrificed to a relationship in which two become one. This, he states, is a mythological image that embodies the sacrifice of the visible for a transcendent good. On this, Campbell does not depart much from Iris Murdoch. Murdoch says that god can and should be found in the ability of one human being to fully and unapologetically accept another. It is difficult to imagine life without sacrifice. We give up from and of ourselves to support, elevate and nurture the existence, maturation and prosperity of another, or some other - a partner, child, business relationship, friend, protégé, country. In doing so, we lose and give up not only privileges but cherished items like our time on this earth, our energy, reserves of patience, tolerance and love, in the hope of attaining that transcendent good - or finding god. And sometimes we succeed at this, but many times we fail. And when we fail, perhaps we will not miss what we sacrificed and lost in the immediate. But once we reach another fork in the road and we have to take a new turn in new company (personal or professional), our accumulated losses become theirs; they bear part of our cross and we part of theirs. Sometimes, what does not kill you does not make you stronger; it makes you a different person, with less and more to offer. And it is the latter that makes all the difference.
Sep 6, 2022 · 2 min read
Bertrand Russell and Freedom
I don’t usually quote other people but the state of affairs in the world these days necessitates a reminder of Bertrand Russell’s thinking. "...freedom is not the panacea of all things. I think there are a good many matters in which freedom should be restrained. Some of them things in which it is not sufficiently restrained at present. In the relations between nations; there ought to be less freedom than there is, I think." "...I think that freedom must have very definite limitations, where you come to things that are definitely harmful to other people or things that prevent you yourself from being useful, such as lack of knowledge." "...I do like clarity and exact thinking and I believe that very important to mankind. Because when you allow yourself to think inexactly, your prejudices, your bias, your self interest comes in in ways you don't notice, and you do bad things without knowing that you are doing them. Self deception is very easy. So that I do think clear thinking immensely important.." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xL_sMXfzzyA
Sep 27, 2022 · 1 min read