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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Pale Blue Dot (in Urdu)

Translation: Nuzhat Kidvai
Voice: Me

Idea: Faisal R Ahmad
Video: Yaminay Nasir Chaudhri

(Zakir Thaver must be mentioned for putting us all together!)

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Monday, January 28, 2013

C'mon. Be happy!

You wrote to me:

Its more like I WANT there to be a reason for my existence. I don't want to just become dust and thats probably why I'm not satisfied by this belief. To think that beyond the seventy-eighty years that I'll live, I'll have no purpose and its all science and I'll just die and go nowhere - when I think of myself that way I barely feel alive.

I'm not satisfied thinking there is NOTHING out there. I've never been good with accepting that there is no answer in any aspect of life. I guess I'm just looking for something more! 

I thought that was a rather poorer way of looking at things. It seemed, first, to focus about you. Only you. Surely if you were a writer, like Homer, you'd be remembered thousands of years later (in some parts of the world). If you were Da Vinci, your work would be recognized for centuries (again in some parts of the world). If you were a philosopher, like Aristotle, your words would be found and repeated in many parts of the world for years. But, then, you could also be a tyrant, like Genghis, and Adolf, and Zia and have your tales told for a long, long time. The universe, itself, does not seem to worry about your being good or bad. People do, but depending upon their own views. Some write praises for Adolf today. More than them there are others who detest him. There are even nutcases who think Zia was a great leader. There are several who hate him.

I live in the same world and I am glad that I hope to leave it better than it was when I began … in some small way. I see no advantage to my name being remembered much after I die. A few friends will, for a few years. My daughter will, for longer. But so what? That doesn't do a dead me any good, does it?

I don't know if what I write after this will help you solve any problems that you may have built up and are thinking of. But this is what I wanted to say to you:

If the lights are off in your city some night - so the neon signs are absent - you could look up at the sky and see the Milky Way (Kahkashaañ in Urdu). If any of you live in a place where these awful multi-coloured neon signs are not there, you can see this galaxy shining away on most nights.

My father was born in 1900: He was 14 when WW1 started, 18 when it ended. That was less than a century ago. I was really surprised to learn that in 1918, the only galaxy that we knew of in space was The Milky Way (Latin: via lactea). Imagine! We thought all the other little fluffy things in the Milky Way were clouds and nebulae, gases and dust … and, possibly, smaller stars,. All within that one galaxy.

In 1919 Edwin Hubble started puzzling the world with new ideas of space. He told us in 1923 "that a puff of distant gossamer in the Andromeda constellation known as M31 wasn’t a gas cloud at all but a blaze of stars, a galaxy in its own right, a hundred thousand light-years across and at least nine hundred thousand light-years away. The universe was vaster—vastly vaster—than anyone had ever supposed."*  The next year he produced a paper that said that the Universe consisted of more than the Milky Way. It had lots of independent galaxies, some of which were bigger than the Milky Way and were much further away from us. Wow!

In 1990 we launched a telescope that we named after Hubble.
Get an iPad App for free at the AppStore.
You have no iPad? Well download this pdf, then.

Now we estimate that there are at least 140 billion galaxies in the 'visible' universe. That is a really huge number. Imagine if each galaxy was represented by a frozen pea, the number of peas laid end to end would fill the Royal Albert Hall and a bit more.

Let us leave our Space for a while and talk of something much smaller: The atom! A half a million of atoms lined close together could hide behind a piece of the human hair. Isn't that really, really minute? Think again: At sea level, at 32°F, one cubic centimeter of air (almost just under a small sugar cube) will have 45 billion billion molecules. Each of them would have an atom in it that would be almost one 10-millionth of a millimeter! 

Richard Feynman was asked what he would say if he had to reduce scientific history to one important statement. He said, "All things are made of atoms." They are everywhere and in everything. Even in the spaces between things.

And they are durable! "Every atom you possess has almost certainly passed through several stars and been part of millions of organisms on its way to becoming you. We are each so atomically numerous and so vigorously recycled at death that a significant number of our atoms—up to a billion for each of us, it has been suggested—probably once belonged to Shakespeare. A billion more each came from Buddha and Genghis Khan and Beethoven, and any other historical figure you care to name. "*

We are al re-incarnations. When we die, the atoms will disassemble and move away to new places. A small spec in a flower. A part of the lovely dewdrop. Or the skin of a laughing hyena. Who knows!

Isn't this magical. More than the lovely-but-false tales that the stories of our creation and miracles and non-evidence stories tell us? Get Richard Dawkins The Magic of Reality and see for yourself.

As Carl Sagan said in Cosmos - "We are Starstuff!"

(* Bill Bryson's A Short History Of Nearly Everything).

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Attia Hosein (and others): Memories

On the 23rd January, 1998, Attia (my Baaji Jania) passed away.
This year is her 100th birthday.

Attia Hosein was my ideal person since I was a child. She lived in England soon after the Partition of India in 1947, although she did visit Pakistan and India sometimes to meet her extended family.

Baaji Jania (BJ) - which is what I called her - was married to her maternal cousin, Ali Bahadur ‘Sunny’ Habibullah, much to the ‘disappointment’ of both sides of the family as we were often told. (Her son, Waris, a director of plays and films, was in the USA but came to London when BJ was ill. Shama, her daughter, lives in Mumbai but was also with her in London during her last days.)

She was the daughter of my mother’s cousin, Nisar Fatima. Her father was Shahid Husain Kidwai. She was named Attia by my daadi who was a great friend of Atia Faizi, the author, traveller, and one greatly fond of Western and Eastern classical music. Among a book I have autographed by her, Sangit of India (by Atiya Begum), is one of my prized possessions. It was given to me by my father's chacha (whose picture you will see at nearly the end of this article).

The third child, BJ was of a darkish complexion while her two older sisters (Zakia and Razia) were a lot fairer. A line that my father's cousin Mahjabeen (who used to tell all of us loads of family stories whenever she came to Karachi) told me that was repeated by Attia's older female relatives at the time of her birth: "Lo, ho chali Nisar kay lak∂ee jalee huee" (= "See, Nisar has given birth to a smothered piece of wood"). But dear old BJ grew up to be not only wonderful and elegant, she became a delightfully good looking woman.

I remember meeting BJ the first time when she came to Pakistan and visited my parents. She had published two books, Phoenix Fled (a collection of short stories) and Sunlight on a Broken Column (a novel). Sunlight had a character called Baba Jan that was partly adapted from my naana.

My father, who was extremely fond of BJ, kept asking her to write more short stories and have them published, but nothing ever came out. We did hear her speak on the BBC and listened to her ‘Urdu’ Shakespeare which was ably translated by my cousin, Siddiq Ahmad Siddiqui, who died so young.
Chhotay Bhaisahab is what I called Siddique Bhai. Always came to Karachi with wonderful gifts for me, including a cricket game that we played on the table everyday. I wish I could remember the name of the game: it had fielders and a bat that had to be pulled by a string. I lost it years ago when we shifted our house, along with all my comics! People heard his voice reciting pieces from the Qur'an when Jinnah Sahab's funeral was taking place and he was narrating the scene as it happened. Yes … he was a Hafizé Qur'an and a strong Atheist!
With BJ's centenary approaching, it was recently that author Aamer Husain and Attia’s daughter, Shama Habibullah, have added her new and selected fiction (Distant Traveller, published by women unlimited) in India. And what a lovely book it turned out to be. Reading Shama’s foreword brought back so many memories. One it is featured here:

I had reached London for the first time and phoned BJ. She was extremely excited to hear I was there and called me over right away. I took her address and got on the Tube Train to get there. Sitting opposite me was a delightful girl, reading a rather large History book. I was stumped by her looks (well, at 18 you always are, anyway — but she was gorgeous!) and I kept glancing at her every now and then over the copy of my newspaper. She looked at me just once and then went back to her book. Damn!

I got off at a stop earlier than I had planned and wandered on the road, looking at beautiful cafés. In a little while I reached BJ’s door. Rang the bell. And … oops! It was opened by that wonderful girl. She asked me why I was there and I said, "I had come to see Attia Hosein … but maybe this is the wrong house”. She said, “Oh, really?” … and called her mother. BJ came out, hugged me and introduced me to her daughter.

Shama and I celebrating my birthday at the Chelsea house.

(Shama and I got along marvellously and are great friends now. This is the first time, though, that she’ll know how I first met her when she reads this blog.)

In 1965, when I was on the “m.v. Shams” as a Second Mate, Pakistan and India began a war and the ship was asked to get to Colombo and stay there. Enver Murad, was Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and Capt. Karim, the ship’s Master, phoned him and said he’d send me with the ship’s papers to visit him. 

Second Mate on "m.v. Shams"

When he mentioned my name, the High Commissioner said he knew me well because my cousin's husband, Usman Ansari, was a classmate of his and he had met me twice with him. Usman Bhai (or Bhaisahab, as I called him), was my favourite cousin-in-law. He was the Press Secretary to Quaid-e-Azam M. A. Jinnah at one point, and was disliked by many in the 'pro-Pakistan' part of the family because he once said at a family dinner: “Jinnah Sahab spoke brilliantly but wrote English badly.”

Usman Ansari

I got this book from Bhaisahab while discussing Jinnah Sahab and the Partition, when I visited him in London. He came to Karachi, soon, and passed away.

Jinnah Sahab deciding Pakistan Day?

I went to see Enver Bhai and as soon as I entered he said, “Have you had a word with your cousin, Reshad Husain?” (Reshad Bhai was the High Commissioner of India to Ceylon and was BJ’s younger brother.) He added, “He’s probably been told by India that Peshawar has been hit badly. Please call him once you get outside and tell him his younger brother, Fuad, is ok. Tell Attia, too. She's here. I’ve just got word. He must be worried. I can’t call him.”

Fuad Shahid Hussain

Fuad Bhai — the youngest of BJ’s siblings and one who also died young — was a brilliant senior pilot in the Pakistan Air Force. Then there was was also the fact that Sunny Bhai’s older brother, BJ’s elder brother-in-law, Maj. Gen’l. Enayat Habibullah, was heading the Indian Forces in their attacks on Pakistan. What a strange partitioned family this was!

BJ answered my call at Reshad Bhai's house and came to meet me at the lovely Galle Face Hotel. We met there everyday for the next few days and walked everywhere, generally talking about the stupid war. We had to fix a time as I could not call Reshad Bhai’s house again because his wife, Asif, thought that a Pakistani calling at this time would be ‘suspect’. Asif Bhabi was the daughter of Miañ Fazlé Hussain, a classmate of Allama Mohammad Iqbal in their BA years. I once lectured, as a student, at a hall named Fazlé Hussain Theatre at the Government College, Lahore.

I saw Baaji Jania very often in London, meeting authors, actors, and many people from the BBC at her place. Re-meeting Waris was fun; we'd only met as kids once. We discussed his plays and I met some of his acting friends. I also visited BJ with my wife (also a cousin of BJ) when Sunny Bhai was in the Chelsea house, slowly dying with cancer. We chatted and talked about everything, from family to friends, while Sunny Bhai watched the horse races on their TV, smiling away as he always did. In fact we even went to visit 'Daddy' (my father's chacha, Sarwar Ali) at his house near Richmond Park one day and he gave me that utterly delicious book of Atiya Begum.

Sunny Bhai, Nuzhat, Daddy, Baaji Jania

Baaji Jania was full of wit — acerbic and otherwise — and had tons of wisdom in the smallest sentences that she spoke or wrote. She sent several letters to me and I sometimes still read a few of them. Her extended family life had become very troubled, even more after Sunny Bhai’s death, and her letters very often focussed on that. But I really miss her conversation and wish I could have spent much more time with her than I did.


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A Degree of Difference: Belief Systems

In an earlier post, a few days ago, I had used a set of definitions taken from a dictionary. However, now one has to move that somewhat further. There are more ideas that have come from Richard Dawkins and his book,  "The God Delusion". In his opinion, there are 7 sections from which one may choose.

1. Strong theist.
100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C. G. Jung, 'I do not believe, I know.'

2. De facto theist.

Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. De facto theist. 'I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.'

3. Leaning towards theism.

Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. 'I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.'

4. Completely impartial.

Exactly 50 per cent. Completely impartial agnostic. 'God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.'

5. Leaning towards atheism.

Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. 'I don't know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be sceptical.'

6. De facto atheist.

Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. 'I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.'

7. Strong atheist.

'I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung "knows" there is one.' 

Dawkins had first said he was "6.5"

but recently stated that he is "6.9" on that scale.

Take a look at this again and see where your belief puts you in this 7-scale setting.

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Monday, January 07, 2013

RIP Madanjeet Singh

Born: April 16, 1924 in Lahore
Died: January 6, 2013, Nice

Artist, Writer, Philanthropist

One of the finest people we've ever met.

Ragni will always remember you for many things
- and specially this hilarious moment.

It was wonderful being with you and associating with your work.

You showed us all how great it is to be a real human!

Thank you, France. You made him live again.

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Friday, January 04, 2013

Being on the Same Page

Since many of my posts in the past (and the future) often discuss matters that are religious, I thought I'd add a list of stuff that people should know before they enter into those posts.

Most of the descriptions have been taken from the Dictionary that came with my Apple Computer. There may be other (slightly different) interpretations but I'll stick to these.

the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods: ideas about the relationship between science and religion.

• a particular system of faith and worship: the world's great religions.

belief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe.

• The term is used chiefly of an intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries that accepted the existence of a creator on the basis of reason but rejected belief in a supernatural deity who interacts with humankind.

(Many current scientists are beginning to 'revive' Deism in their essays.)

the belief in the existence of a god or gods, esp. belief in one god as creator of the universe, intervening in it and sustaining a personal relation to his creatures.

disbelief in the existence of God or gods.

• ORIGIN late 16th cent.: from French athéisme, from Greek atheos, froma- ‘without’ + theos ‘god.’

Someone who is categorically against the Theistic Beliefs

from Agnostic: a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.

A Hebrew patriarch (from whom all Jews trace their descent.)

• Jews, Christians, and Muslims have many common beliefs that are all Abrahamic in their origins, although variations exist within some of them.

the monotheistic religion of the Jews.

• For its origins Judaism looks to the biblical covenant made by God with Abraham, and to the laws revealed to Moses and recorded in the Torah (supplemented by the rabbinical Talmud), which established the Jewish people's special relationship with God. Since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, the rituals of Judaism have centered on the home and the synagogue.

a member of the people and cultural community whose traditional religion is Judaism and who trace their origins through the ancient Hebrew people of Israel to Abraham.

of, relating to, or professing Christianity or its teachings

a person who has received Christian baptism or is a believer in Jesus Christ and his teachings.

the religion of the Muslims, a monotheistic faith regarded as revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah.

• Founded in the Arabian peninsula in the 7th century AD, Islam is now the professed faith of more than a billion people worldwide, particularly in North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. The ritual observances and moral code of Islam were said to have been given to Muhammad as a series of revelations, which were codified in the Koran. Islam is regarded by its adherents as the last of the revealed religions, and Muhammad is seen as the last of the prophets (by almost all Muslims), building on and perfecting the examples and teachings of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.

• ORIGIN from Arabic 'islām ‘submission,’ from 'aslama ‘submit (to God).’

Old Testament
the first part of the Christian Bible, comprising thirty-nine books and corresponding approximately to the Hebrew Bible. Most of the books were originally written in Hebrew, some in Aramaic, between about 1200 and 100 BC. They comprise the chief texts of the law, history, prophecy, and wisdom literature of the ancient people of Israel.

New Testament
the second part of the Christian Bible, written originally in Greek and recording the life and teachings of Jesus and his earliest followers. It includes the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, twenty-one epistles by St. Paul and others, and the book of Revelation.

Koran (also Qur'an or Quran )
the Islamic sacred book, believed to be the word of God as dictated to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel and written down in Arabic. The Koran consists of 114 units of varying lengths, known as suras. These touch upon all aspects of human existence, including matters of doctrine, social organization, and legislation.

• ORIGIN from Arabic qur'ān ‘recitation,’ from qara'a ‘recite.’


There are other religions and faith-based beliefs that have been part of human development. A lot of them have different Creation stories that we will discuss in some of my new blog posts.

Many of these religions were used by Romans, Greeks, Norwegians, Incas, Chinese, Japanese, Iranians, Africans, Easter Islanders, Maoris, Indians, and many more people.

Newer religions, like Sikhism and others, were added in comparatively recent years. Each of the known religions have several versions within them, followed by sects and sub-sects. One of the Muslim sects, the Ahmadis (which has two sub-sects within it) are considered non-Muslim in Pakistan, and a couple of Muslim countries, but are considered a Muslim Sect in other parts of the world.

Two religions that we may discuss at some point - particularly because of the way Muslims in Pakistan follow parts of Islam, are these:

A major religious and cultural tradition of South Asia, developed from Vedic religion.

• Hinduism is practiced primarily in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal and other countries. It is a diverse family of devotional and ascetic cults and philosophical schools, all sharing a belief in reincarnation and involving the worship of one or more of a large pantheon of gods and goddesses, including Mithra (an Indo-Aryan god), Shiva and Vishnu (incarnate as Rama and Krishna), Kali, Durga, Parvati, and Ganesh. Hindu society was traditionally based on a caste system.

founded by Siddartha Gautama. Born an Indian prince in what is now Nepal, he renounced wealth and family to become an ascetic, and after achieving enlightenment while meditating, taught all who came to learn from him. Gautama did not mention God or gods in his work or teachings.

• ORIGIN Sanskrit, literally ‘enlightened,’ past-participle of budh ‘know.’



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