Sanguine Soul

 

You will never know what you are missing out on in life until you venture out of the comfort of your home. Being a consultant gives me ample opportunities to do just that. My sojourn to Gilgit Baltistan left a lasting impression on me , so much so that  I’m convinced now that at some point in time ill construct a shack there and live in austerity. Memories of the beautiful valleys, pristine flowing waters, magnificent mountains, lush green trees, and cultured people are all etched in my mind, constantly inviting me to revisit the sound, sight and smell of nature’s eclectic collection of awe inspiring oddities.

I can safely say that my words cannot encapsulate the unique experience of a road trip to what seemed like, at least to me, a far off magical land, nonetheless I will try and pen down the highlights of a journey I made with 6 exuberant office mates from CHIP Training and Consulting whose company I must acknowledge, especially since they made the experience ever so pleasant.

The Team

The Team

 

 

 

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Picnic at Shandoor- Photo credit: Muhammad Tayyab

 

Journey from Islamabad to Gilgit

In order to get to gilgit from Islamabad it takes around 14 hours on the KKH (karakoram highway) on average. The KKH is renowned for being the highest paved international road in the world that links China to Pakistan. It is a materialization of 20 years of working under difficult circumstances, marked with the blood and sweat of many Pakistani and Chinese citizens who made the construction of this eight wonder possible. The highway however is in need of maintenance with patches of really bad road which is why it is advisable to go on a four wheel drive. The highway officially starts in Abbotabad and meets the Pakistani – Chinese border at Khunjerab pass. With every passing hour there is a visible difference in the scenery and it’s almost as though nature is unraveling layer after layer of its endless bounties. At a place called Thakot the waters of river Indus could be seen gushing alongside the highway all the way up to Jaglot where the Gilgit river joins the Indus. The fusion of the crystal blue glacial waters with the mighty Indus is a sight worth seeing.

Point along the KKH where Gilgit River Joins the Mighty Indus

Point along the KKH where Gilgit River Joins the Mighty Indus- Photo credit Muhammad Tayyab

It also happens to be the meeting point of three of the world’s greatest ranges, namely, the Hindukush, the Himalaya, and the Karakoram. Very keen eyes can also spot the western end of the Himalayas marked by the ninth highest peak in the world; the Nanga Parbat nicknamed the killer mountain by mountaineers. Along the way you will find mountain goats and sheep frolicking away with not a care in the world and if you are lucky you may even spot some exotic birds. By exotic I mean any bird that is not a jet black crow with small beady eyes!

The Evil Mountains

Kohistan is officially the last district of KPK after which Diamer begins which is part of GB. Anyone who has passed by Kohistan would tell you that just the surrounding mountains emanate an eerie feeling which lasts until Chilas, capital of Diamer. It is probably something to do with the mountains being barren, grey and cold, giving off a very negative vibe. Strange as it may sound I actually enjoyed the evil aura of sorts that the vast barrenness was exuding. Interestingly enough many say that they feel suffocated in that particular place despite it being an open expanse of land. Maybe it is the cold mountains that seem to just gape at you in a very menacing way and I suppose stories of people being brutally murdered there just adds the cherry on top. Whatever it is, just taking that surrounding in is an experience in itself but it can be unsettling. So a tip to anyone who is passing by for the first time; it’s better to avoid chilling at Chilas.

One thing that I found really striking throughout the road trip was how the mountains transitioned into different sizes, shapes, rock formations and plantation. Along the way some mountains were densely covered with emerald green trees, others had small shrubs whilst some like the Kohistan and Chilas mountains were completely devoid of any plantation.

Rice Cultivation

Rice Cultivation- photo credit Muhammad Tayyab

Mostly Barren Mountains

Mostly Barren Mountains

 Finally Gilgit

Fourteen hours and three rest stops later we reached Gilgit. Although the hotel we stayed in is in main Gilgit city it seems like it is nestled away between the Karakoram Mountains. Even in June the weather is pleasant and you can feel the summer breeze every now and then which is quite refreshing. The NLI (Northern Light Infantry) market in Gilgit has some really nice places to shop for local commodities like dry fruit and handicrafts and the barbeque items at the canopy hotel is worth trying too. We stopped over at Gilgit only for a night and half a day, not nearly enough time to discover anything more than the hotel premises and local shops.

Next Stop Hunza

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Serena Hotel in Gilgit

The winding road to Hunza is one of the most scenic drives I have been on with cliffs partially hanging over the highway and breathtakingly beautiful forested land.

Dense Forest- Hunza

Dense Forest- Hunza

It does not take more than two hours to reach Hunza from Gilgit on the KKH.  There are a number of street vendors alongside the road where we stopped to eat a local snack called chhup-shoro which is made fresh on a stone oven. It’s a thin pastry filled with minced meat and red kidney beans. It may not sound like much but the soft dough and the meat becomes one and just melts in your mouth. I highly recommend it.

 

Hunza is home to some spectacular mountains like the Rakaposhi, Ultar Sar and the Lady Finger. There is a point along the route where the mountains form a circle around the highway and all sides are surrounded with these magnificent snowcapped peaks beckoning you towards them. If you look around vigilantly there’s no way you can miss it.

Mountains dominating KKH

Mountains dominating KKH

 

We spent the night at Serena Hotel in Hunza where I had a local soup called daodo. It’s made in chicken or beef broth and is guaranteed to warm up your insides, perfect for a cool summer night.  Nightst in Hunza are particularly pleasant and the sky glistens with hundreds of stars . Its hard not to doze off  feeling oddly content in life.

Sight seeing in Hunza

Hunza is a popular tourist destination and rightly so. It is renowned particularly for its watch towers in the Ganish village. Baltit Fort stands on top of Karimabad whereas Altit is situated at the bottom, the former is 800 years old according to carbon dating and the latter 1100 years. My colleague and I got up early in the morning and decided to walk uphill to see the Baltit fort. We stopped to have breakfast at a small rickety hotel with a sign outside boasting of how they made the best chapatis. True to their word, the chapatis were indeed the best I had in a long time, even the egg and tea tasted different from what I am used to having.

Sitting on the rooftop of the hotel, sipping tea while enjoying the quite of the morning was a great start to what I knew would be an eventful day.

Local Eatery at Hunza- Located on the cobblestone street that goes up to Baltit Fort

Local Eatery at Hunza- Located on the cobblestone street that goes up to Baltit Fort

 

As we walked uphill we came across a number of shops that sold interesting local crafts, rocks, hand woven carpets mostly at an exorbitant price. We were however able to bargain and bring the price down significantly. I think it had something to do with me using the, I am your first customer this morning so treat me well card.

According to the Merchant this female traditional head gear is 200 years old!

According to the Merchant this female traditional head gear is 200 years old! Photo credit Muhammad Tayyab

The Watch Towers

The forts have an interesting history which the tour guides are more than happy to take their visitors through. Personally I found Altit fort more fascinating in terms of its history and strategic positioning. Additionally at its foothill was a beautifully manicured garden where there were small curvy trees with intertwining branches, a great shady place to sit and enjoy a cup of tea.

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Garden right below the Altit Fort- Photo credit Muhammad Tayyab

I must add here that the guide at Altit fort was particularly uppity, but in a good way, he gave a very thorough description, giving a clear indication that he knew what he was talking about. He even took photos of myself and my colleague while dangling from the balcony which I must admit was a bit nerve racking. In one particular room there was a pillar in the middle which he claimed held the mummified body of, if I recall correctly a traitor of some sort.

The fort is made on a rock cliff that drops 1000 feet into the Hunza river. To the right of the fort is the central town and to the left you can see the majestic Rakaposhi mountain. As I stood on its roof top I took in my surrounding and I was engulfed by this strong feeling of want and desire. The feeling of being present there at that point made me well up with emotion. It was then that I told myself that if anything has stolen my heart its Hunza. The village of Altit, its people and its children were very charming and in a flash I could see myself living happily there with the locals.

This neatly packed village with its cobblestone uphill pavements, green shrubs and manmade water pond were really pleasing to see. I was told that the pond freezes in winter and the children use it for ice skating. I can’t even fathom how stunning that must look.

aerial view of the Village

aerial view of the Village

 

Luckily enough I got to see the Hunza scouts back at the hotel. They were smartly dressed young men playing drums and bag pipes. It was quite an impressive ensemble. I am glad I had the privilege of seeing them at their prime as I later came to know that they were celebrating Hunzas culture festival aka Ginani, which is celebrated with traditional fervor to mark the beginning of the new harvest season.

Marching Band Celebrating Ginani

Marching Band Celebrating Ginani- Photo credit Muhammad Tayyab

Travel to Shandoor

The road to  Shandoor was a bit of a night mare. We hired a Willys jeep and it took us a little over 5 hours to get there. The road was almost nonexistent in parts and because it was an open jeep I could see how close to the edge we were. Quite an adrenaline rush I must say!

 

 

The stop over I’m glad we made

It was 11 pm, freezing cold and we weren’t exactly dressed the part. So we made the call to stop at a place called Phandar because Shandoor has no motels and to stay there you would have to make pre-arrangements for a tent and sleeping bags. Im glad we did that because Phandar is a sight for sore eyes! It is a place worth staying for at least an entire day. The lake surrounding the motel is the color of blue sapphire where the reflection of tall green trees looks as though it is imprinted on the water. There is nothing like reveling there with not a care in the world.Alas for us we could not stay long as we had to be at Shandoor in time for the polo match.

 Shandoor Polo Festival

Phandar Lake

Phandar Lake- Photo credit Muhammad Tayyab

At 12000 feet Shandoor is renowned for being the highest polo ground in the world. This spectacular ground has hosted polo matches since the past 800 years. It is held annually in the month of July played by rival teams from Chitral and Gilgit. This time around they held the polo festival early and due to some internal conflict Gilgit did not participate.

A polo fan would have found the match exhilarating, with feelings of excitement and jubilation in the air. For me more than the match the scene of horses galloping across the green ground with the backdrop of snowy mountains, a distant blue lake and a paragilder looked too good to be true. To say the least that experience was surreal.We left just as the festivities began to die down and for us it was a long journey back home.

Shandoor Festival

Shandoor Festival- Photo credit Muhammad Tayyab

 Travel Back to Reality

We stayed a night in gilgit and left for Islamabad next morning. This time we took the Babusar Pass route which is a lot more scenic in comparison to the KKH. It’s mostly not accessible as it gets caved in with snow especially in winter. When we reached the top of the mountain it felt as though we were driving into a bed of clouds. Parts of the mountain were covered in snow so white that staring at it for long made my eyes hurt. The whole time I was glued to the window watching the scenery change all the while thinking of how much nature has to offer.

Awe Inspiring Shandoor

Awe Inspiring Shandoor- Photo credit Muhammad Tayyab

Rest assured I cannot put in words the feelings that I had at various stages of my journey to Gilgit Baltitstan. I can say for a fact that it gave me perspective and insight on a region that is different in its own right.

They say seeing is believing, I saw and I believe and I acquiesce to the positive force of nature because I know for a fact that nothing can reckon with it.

Babusar Top

Babusar Top

 

17th May 2014- I woke up in the morning to a slightly itchy back. Upon investigation it dawned on me that the tiny red spots were bed bugs. It’s a good thing I took my own bed sheet or it could have been a lot worse. People who have done a lot of field work always say that one of the most essential items for any trip to a far flung, under resourced field location is a bed sheet. In my case not only did it some what protect me from bed bugs but it also saved me the aversion of sleeping on a bed covered with small strands of someone else’s hair.

I had breakfast and left for yet another bumpy ride to a village called Ahmed Raju in Badin. Just in case you are wondering, yes , Ahmed Raju is a person’s name. I was told that often villages took their name after some influential elder or self-proclaimed saint aka pirs. The graves of such people are sacred points of worship, where villagers go with their woes in hopes that the deceased would hear their plee and act as their advocate in front of God. After around 2 hours we arrived at the sight.

Just as soon as I got out of the car I was greeted by a hot gust of wind. It felt like 40 degrees and to be honest the thought of having to work in the heat did weigh me down until I reminded myself that people live in these conditions without so much as adequate shelter from the sun and water to replenish their dehydrated bodies. This village also comprised of thatched roofs but it was somewhat better than the one I had visited a day before in Sanghar  because they had houses made of mud making it a slightly more resilient structure.

Typical mud construction with a thatched roof

Typical mud construction with a thatched roof

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Curious Cow

As I walked in to the colony of around 500 households I was met with curious eyes so much so that even this huge cow tied under a straw shed was gazing at me ever so intently. Despite the conscious effort I make to minimize the attention I attract it seems as though I have a label slapped across my forehead that says ELITIST.  I am actually very mindful of how I look when I’m doing field work which is why I dress to assimilate with the community I am going into but alas my austerity measures just don’t work. Perhaps to them I am still the bourgeois with an inkling of a conscience who has come to make things right out of guilt or shame. Group InterviewI can only guess what was running through the minds of the colorfully clad women who had by now surrounded me as I was being led to a small open vicinity that was covered by the same straw ceiling that took me long enough to realize was indigenous to the area. As I sat on what looked like a hand woven mat, women began to appear left, right and center sitting right in front of me expecting me to give a speech. For a few seconds it felt like I had swallowed my tongue but I eventually gathered my nerves and told them the purpose of my visit was to conduct a baseline study on DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) at their village.Of course I didn’t use those exact same words, I had to improvise. Luckily enough two women could speak the local dialect and did not mind translating what I had to say. How accurate their translation was, I guess I’ll never know.  Having said that I was quite surprised that they more or less understood the concept of early warning systems, preparedness and mitigation when I explained it to them( that says a lot about my own ability to explain things given its perhaps my weakest area). Nonetheless I find that in a village setting it is very hard to conduct a structured FGD so for the purpose of maintaining integrity I will call the exercise a group interview.

As expected there has never been any kind of Government intervention let alone provision of public goods in Ahmed Raju, The community engages in farming and fishing practices which is subject to favorable weather as well as provision of essential inputs.  As I ask the women about the natural hazards in their area they tell me that the threat of ravaging floods constantly looms over their heads like an ominous cloud and they are completely helpless when it strikes with all its wrath. Men and women dig trenches around their homes to prevent the water coming in and use mud to strengthen their walls so they don’t collapse but that is pretty much the only DRR measure they can take which more often than not simply does not cut it. Due to a non-existent drainage system the water from the floods stagnates and causes waterborne diseases which the people in the village have no means to address as a) there is no hospital in the vicinity and b) even if there was they have no financial means of affording treatment.

The women at this point sound exasperated by my incessant questioning which is when I decided to tone things down a bit and ask them if they have any skills. I asked because most of them were wearing embroidered clothes that were made with such finesse and fine craftsmanship.    It got me thinking on how capitalizing skills can get one so far in life and how this whole baseline exercise on DRR is really so much more than just introducing hazard maps. I mean lets face it, if one is economically sound they need not make their abode in a hazard prone zone such as river banks. I don’t mean to fly off in a tangent but I truly believe that a steady income is the only escape from problems that stem from poverty, the threat of disaster included.

In this particular village I saw a lot of potential and cooperation between men and women. They plant their own crops, they make their own homes, they even stitch their own clothes. They are self-made and that alone is admirable. The women only require a start-up capital which they can use to buy machinery, threads and needles for embroidery and stitching. The semi finished product they make can end up in big retail outlets if only the market cooperates and gives them their fair share. I don’t think that’s asking for too much and I believe its doable.

After interviewing the women of Ahmed Raju, I brought home two messages. The first, the vulnerable are not in that position because they didn’t work hard to introduce protective measures to prevent their village from flooding.  The second, every project be it DRR should have a component on livelihood because safety is indirectly linked to being economically sound. The people in this village know how to build homes that are resilient, they know what materials are required the only thing they lack is the capital. Stronger homes require more money and no money leads to shoddy constructions which are easily swept away by floods, it’s as simple as that.

I was greeted at Karachi airport on the 15th of May by what felt like a heavy sickly kind of air to me. My driver, Faqeer gul, a sombre man, was waiting for me at the airport parking. He kept my luggage in the sedans boot without so much as a hello, how are you? and sped towards Hyderabad like there was no tomorrow. The highway to Hyderabad was uneven and a bumpy ride to say the least. Despite the heavy load of traffic on either side faqeer gul was driving at 120 clearly not perturbed by the fact that I was scared, pardon my French, shitless.

After two hours of holding on to dear life, I thanked my lucky stars when I reached the crummy hotel Indus which I have been told is Hyderabads best. As I waited for the keys to my room I saw a rat scurrying across the floor to the other end of the lobby, seeking refuge behind the most hideous curtains I had ever seen. My heart sank as I took in my surroundings and the feeling only grew stronger as I was shown to my dingy room which smelled of putrid industrial waste just like the rest of Hyderabad. I knew I had no choice but to stay there for three nights so I tried not to let it get to me. I was desperate to shower and as I stepped into the bath tub and turned the faucet, I realized the drain was clogged with what looked like a mixture of hair and dirt. As the water pooled around my feet I could see its brownish color and I said to myself ‘’who said field is a walk in the park? Now suck it up!’’

16th May- We travel to Sanghar– Village Bakkar My team and I woke up at 6am had breakfast at the hotel and by 7:30am we were on our way to Sanghar, one of the most important historical cities in Sindh. As we were driving out of Hyderabad, all I saw, much to my dismay, was utter chaos on the roads. No where along our route did I see a single traffic light which is probably why there were cars left, right and center blaring their horns. It saddened me to know that this city once exuberated refined culture because nothing I saw depicted even a remote reflection of its past. Hence Hyderabad is a classic example of a state gone rogue.

Bakkar Lake

As we drove out of the industrial wasteland aka Hyderabad, the scenery improved drastically. I saw orchards, greenery, cattle and women clad in colourful clothes working in the fields on a hot summers day. I saw life. I saw potential and that gave me hope. Well, Sort of. Nearly three hours later we reached an open desolate area where our client’s partner’s office was located. Nearby there was a primary school that looked like a haunted shack right out of Resident Evil. Just the sight of the building would deter any student from going to school. Within a few hundred metres was the partner’s office. The purpose of our visit was to conduct a Disaster Risk Reduction Baseline Study and our job as consultants was to facilitate our clients implementing partner, PFF (Pakistan Fisher folk Forum) which is an NGO working for the fishing communities.

The agenda for the day was to form four teams with PFF staff members for each disaster struck village located on the peripheries of Sanghar. There were five members including me on my team and the village where we conducted our survey is called bakkar. It gets its name from the lake bakkar and it is a fishermen’s community of approximately 230 households locally known as the Mai people. This village is at nature’s mercy and is susceptible to severe rainstorms and flooding. It was surprising to see what limited resources they had. To my knowledge this village probably has no idea what government intervention looks like because there were no signs of public service/facilities. What they call a house is a thatched roof that is supported by weak wooden pillars. It filled me with remorse to see their straggly abode and hear them pour their heart out to me, because i could sense that they were hoping that I could provide them with immediate relief.

Damaged boat

Damaged boat

Thatched home destroyed due to strong winds

Thatched home destroyed due to strong winds

I was meant to be conducting interviews but instead I ended up initiating a Focus Group Discussion. Luckily for me one of the men spoke fluent urdu and was translating what other members of the community were saying in sindhi. The locals told me that in the past 5 years the frequency of natural disasters such as floods and storms had increased destroying everything in its wake. Having no early warning system all they could do was watch helplessly as the calamity swept away their belongings and tore their thatched roofs as they hung on to dear life. Aside from this inherent danger I was told that that they also face an acute shortage of fish in the lake which jeopardizes their only source of income. They told me that during the months when the fish is meant to be at its peak the Irrigation Department decreases the level of water from the lake diverting it to downstream agrarian communities who also happen to be rich feudal lords. Put two and two together and it’s obvious that the reason behind destroying the fishing community’s livelihood is money. The Department does not consult the community before increasing or decreasing the level of water in the lake. As a result, this community has to pay the price. The locals told me about a plant that grows in the lake and reaches up to a few meters above the surface of water. This plant locally called Kangor plays a vital role in decreasing the pressure of wind. When the department increases the level of water the plant is immersed and eventually dies. This is because it cannot survive when it’s completely submerged under water. This plant is pretty much the only source of barrier that somewhat protects the village from strong winds and the officials don’t give two tarts about how important it is in protecting the mai community from natural hazard. This callous attitude on part of the department made me realize that far from alleviating the pain of the poor the government is a huge cause of it.

Kangor Plant

Kangor Plant

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local woman making a fishing net

Had it not been for the non profit sector the Mai would have had absolutely no support. Personally I have always been a tad bit skeptical about NGOs but a visit to this community made me realize how important their presence is in places that are devoid of any assistance. After completing my FGD exercise I asked a woman to give me a tour of the village. As we walked around under the scorching sun I saw some of the thatched houses that were blown away from the strong winds that had struck the village two days before I arrived there with the team. A few feet further up I could see women and children bathing in the water. They offered me to jump in with them and I have to say that the heat at the time did tempt me but alas I was there on a mission and so I politely declined. Women in Bakkar are skilled artisans, their men fish using nets made by them. They even assist in building and repairing boats proving their worth in the community. I was pleasantly surprised to know that the women also engage in rescue efforts as they are excellent swimmers.

After the tour I thanked the people for their time and hospitality said my goodbyes and went to rejoin my team leaving behind very hopeful eyes which I honestly felt were boring a hole at the back of my skull. I felt like I used them. To sum up my experience what I saw in Bakkar were a people who despite their miserable existence still managed to extend hospitality. Despite all their hurdles they have this zeal to change their lives for the better and hope that their children will get to see a better tomorrow. I witnessed a sense of openness and a strong kinship between them which really made me realize how distant people are from one another in the cities. I became sensitized towards pain and now if I read somewhere in a report that the Mai communities in Sindh have been affected by disaster, I will not treat it as damage done in terms of mere statistics, I will perceive it in a humane context because suffering is not about quantifying damage it’s about that feeling of empathy and shared pain. That evening when I arrived back at Indus Hotel I took in my surroundings and found less reason to complain. I know its May and I’m thinking of this New Year’s Resolution four months into the year but now I know what I want. I really want to travel the road less travelled by because I read somewhere that, that is what made all the difference.

Water hole

Water hole

To be continued……

I don’t want to sound like a simpleton but I truly believe the world will be a better place for a whole lot of people if those with authority relinquished their need to control the underdog and instead expended their energy on something productive. Clearly acting like a puppeteer and relishing the affect that pulling strings has on the less advantaged is anything but productive. It is demeaning, cruel and a direct violation of a person’s right to live in a way they see fit.
Ironically the Pakistani society that is outraged when the United States is breaching their country’s sovereignty fails to acknowledge that on a societal level they too are violating personal space by compelling people to act in accordance to archaic customs. The country on the whole suffers from a parochial mentality justified by its misconstrued, lost in translation religious teachings that are deeply enmeshed in its social fabric and have poisoned all its institutions to the point where any kind of change far from being welcomed is vehemently opposed.
The incessant need to control is what breeds violence, resentment, and intolerance. We are quick to admonish the likes of Saddam, Assad, Mubarak, Kaddafi, Khomeini who were/are deemed undemocratic because they all stood/stand accused of stifling people’s inherent right to freedom. We call them brutal but isn’t our own society a microcosm of their notorious regimes? Is it not customary in most patriarchal eastern households for the male head to restrict those members of the family who are directly under their auspices? Are they not at their mercy and are they not subject to the same kinds of oppression? The system we have created is worse than soviet socialism where any semblance to individuality is obliterated. At least socialism espoused a sense of egalitarianism; I’m not sure what a traditionalist society such as the one we have bestowed on ourselves hopes to achieve. I’m astounded by the number of educated families I have come across who pressurise their kids to pursue a career they do not want, marry a person they do not love, believe the things they do not believe, accept the customs they cannot rationalize and be the person they are simply not. If this isn’t totalitarian, despotic and tyrannical then what is? I think there is a difference between imparting morals and imposing them. Children are taught universal rights and wrongs and so they should, undeniably everyone has to go through the process of socialization, but till what age can you hammer mainstream values? I can’t fathom the idea that it is acceptable even desirable to dictate a mature adult and I fail to understand what justifies enforcing a second or third party’s will on someone who has been blessed with the mental capacity to think for themselves.
Our educated lot talk about military dictators like Musharraf who imposed emergency rule, suppressed media outlets, allowed the US to engage in drone strikes on his country’s soil, all the while making light of civil liberties but have they ever contemplated on what goes on in their own homes. They have internalized the ideology that anyone who holds a different belief from theirs is a heretic. Any woman who is outgoing, ambitious and assertive is corrupt and yet any man who is the same is civil. We talk a lot about freedom, equal opportunities and justice and yet the people employed in our homes as domestic help live a miserable existence, the women are denied the same kind of treatment as their male counterparts and the institution of family is akin to a bank which in exchange for a fat loan uses everything you own as collateral. Correct me if I’m wrong but doesn’t that sound like hypocrisy and double standards at its best? My intention is not to generalize, of course not everyone is bent on exercising control over those susceptible to being controlled but on the whole it is a ubiquitous and an unfortunate reality.
I hate to muddle religion with culture but that is part of the problem I have my reservations against enforcing religion and the rituals associated with it simply because something that is forced upon someone a) makes no real difference and b) may result in a virulent backlash at some point in time. What I believe in and what you believe in is no one’s business but our own and to pry on matters concerning faith serves no purpose, I am yet to be convinced otherwise. It saddens me that a nation with so much potential cannot bring it to fruition because of their restricted mindset. If society and religious doctrines dictate everything from the day you are born to the day you die you lose your right to be a person and your sense of identity comes from belonging to a conformist crowd. There is nothing sorrier than that.
I think it’s high time we acknowledge that the reason why we cannot progress as a nation is because we are complacent in dealing with structural violence .There are aspects of culture that serve to legitimize it producing conditions that perpetuate injustice between sexes, ethnicities, religions and social classes making them not only an acceptable but a desirable norm. The internalization of such twisted morals gives birth to extremists who think it is their inherent right to set deviants on the right path. Violence is not just the obvious act of causing physical harm and engaging in belligerence it is those ingrained aspects of certain societal cultures and religions that deprive individuals of something as basic as physiological needs to survive to equal opportunities to realize aspirations.
Freedom of speech cannot thrive where there is no tolerance let alone acceptance or even contemplation on differing opinions. I do not propose an adoption of Western values as they too have their fair share of problems, I only propose peaceful coexistence, respect for individuality and a willingness to accept varying opinions. In a nutshell, give people the right to choose because you only get one life to live and nothing is worse than living it under societal autocracy.

Before we even know it our ephemeral existence begins to fade into nothingness  and when that happens it is often too late to wind back the hands of time. It is a travesty when able lives brimming with potential are squandered into absolute oblivion. There is no feeling worse than looking back at your life and trying to think  hard about what you did that deserves to be remembered. I am no sage but I know that if I didn’t do my part to make the most of what is at my disposal my life would be nothing more than wasted space.

Is it enough to be self indulgent? Is that even living? Is that the purpose of being here? This hedonistic capitalist world has made us unconscious slaves of our own superficial desires. They say capitalism is about individualism but what is individualism? Its just a polite way of saying you do not give a dime about anyone but yourself. 
Everyday I find a reason to complain, everyday I resent a part of life and everyday I ignore more than half of this worlds population that doesn’t know any better than striving to get a hot meal. My incessant rants then begin to feel petty. I feel petty.

But tomorrow is another day right? Wrong! Tomorrow never comes and when it does it becomes the day after and the day after that and the day after that until we run out of tomorrows. So this idea of a better tomorrow is a delusion because it will never materialize. Can I blame the system? Perhaps… Can I beat the system? Absolutely… Do I really want to? Certainly NOT if I choose to let tomorrow be the judge of that.

11:15pm Sunday 14th 2012

These fireworks were all photoed at a local fi...

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Twas New Years Eve and I was anxiously waiting amidst a sizeable number of people for the extravagant display of fireworks that was minutes away from blossoming in the ebony sky with the stunning backdrop of the Sydney harbor bridge. Blossom it did, as the fireworks lit up the night invigorating a sensational aura. The scene was nothing less than captivating and I couldn’t help but feel sad as the hues in the sky dissipated.

However I had no idea how much money the ensemble that dressed the sky for a few minutes costed. When I found out it was a whopping 65million dollars I was flabbergasted for more reasons than one. How can any country spend so much money on something as trivial as fireworks that too just for a few minutes of awe? The world just cannot afford the extravagance of multimillion dollar firework displays     http://edition.cnn.com/2011/12/30/travel/nye-waterfront-destinations/?hpt=hp_c3 and yet each year countries like China, Australia, France, UK, Canada amidst others go all out with New Year’s Celebrations.

I don’t want to sound like a drag but can people not find a more suitable means of celebration? Do they have to blow up the sky each year wrecking the natural environment whilst also endangering human lives? http://www.voiceforthevoiceless.org.za/dangers.htm It is sad what a few minutes worth of joy costs. China the biggest manufacturer of fireworks not only employs child labor in fireworks production factories but also puts their lives at stake. Each year there are many injuries and deaths that are caused solely due to fireworks. It’s hard to imagine how anyone can encourage fireworks displays knowing the heavy cost and loss of lives that it involves. http://www.clb.org.hk/en/node/3172

One can argue that it is great for the economy as it brings in a lot of money not to mention tourists from all over the world but realistically speaking and keeping long term risks in mind, it is absolutely useless. We are already damaging the eco system to the point where soon it will be irreparable and blowing up fireworks is just adding the cherry on top. http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/translating-uncle-sam/stories/are-fireworks-bad-for-the-environment In my opinion lighting the sky up with toxic fumes is something that is not debatable hence does not warrant any kind of cost benefit analysis. If one must celebrate why not try eco friendly alternatives such as electronic fireworks display lamps or LEDs. Costs less and makes more sense no? http://www.backcountryattitude.com/toxic_fireworks.html

Without a shadow of a doubt the money spent on fireworks can be put to better use elsewhere for instance to finance research projects that look at renewable and sustainable forms of energy. It is high time we realize that petroleum and coal are not going to last for infinity, yes it will last long enough for our generation but what about the future generations to come? What sort of a world will they be coming into? They will live a very bleak and devoid existence.  There are two things that should be our number one priority; to prevent the gradual deterioration of this planet by controlling climate change and to ensure means of sustainable energy.  Investing in solar, hydle and wind energy is the world’s best bet. What is more important is the fact that for developing and under developed countries it is easier to build an infrastructure that supports new forms of eco friendly energy as opposed to the developed world. This is because the developed world will have to take down its existing infrastructure and rebuild a new one from scratch whereas Africa and parts of Asia don’t have anything to begin with.

So it all comes down to one thing. Developed countries have a social and moral obligation towards protecting this sanctuary that God has bestowed upon us. It is up to them to utilize their resources in the best and most efficient means possible. These countries are in a position to develop, implement and then export renewable energy around the globe to reduce overall dependency on non renewable resources. Knowing that they have this responsibility to shoulder can they really afford to spend millions on a few minutes of joy and utter bliss, is the only question that I want to pose.

All good things must come to an end and so it figures that life must meet death. It’s not fair how ephemeral existence is but the word fair itself is so Utopian anyway. I am of the notion that dying in the true sense of the word doesn’t necessarily mean leaving earthly presence because you can wipe out all remnants of your existence through your actions. living recklessly, showing no regard for the significant others and callously shunning them plays a great role in wiping you off of people’s radar.

I recently discovered that there is no difference in the grief of burying a loved one and the grief of losing to a loved one. Perhaps in the latter case the grief is more profound. So what makes a person dead to someone when they really aren’t? Maybe their sudden and petty indifference, maybe their betrayal, maybe their broken promises, the point being that they instigate you into believing that they are no longer alive. Their changed selves are easier to accept when you tell yourself that they died and were reborn with a new identity. This illusion helps one come in to terms with what can be a very difficult acceptance.

The soul inside can die a thousand deaths if you want it to and depending on how you wield it. Experiences shape your perceptions and I pray that most of us can manage to stay alive in the hearts of the genuine few, I also pray that I never be the cause of someones pain to the extent that they are forced to expel me from their realm of existence.

11:58pm

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