December 21, 2013

The Aaya is not the solution

Families have always had to deal with this choice - should women stay at home and care for the children or they go to work and leave the kids with caretakers?

With the emerging concerns of women's liberation as is so often labelled within this modern social revolution, the dynamic is to entice women to step out of the home. The push is so purposeful and the urge to comply so enticing that it may often even go unawares against the grain of a person’s deeper heartfelt thinking. It’s a matter of everyone going along with the globalizing trend that is sweeping the new generational thinking - sometimes with the fear of being alienated if we don't comply and get on the band wagon.

From the point of view of the plight of the future family and the child it raises, let's then look at what happens to the child left at home. We need to realize that that the little human being we leave in the house is not a small adult, but is an evolving being. That little being will be influenced by the environment in which it is nurtured. So naturally it will follow the nature of force with which it is left as the sources of influence. Unfortunately, such influences as the grand parents or other relatives who lived with us in extended family systems is no more; and even if grandparents are live-ins nowadays, they have no say because increasingly, the new households they inhabit don’t belong to them. Instead, in our nuclear families, the nurturing force is the foreign Aaya in the house as both parents spend their time in the office or work environment. I wonder how many parents think about the plight they are putting their children into! Do we think that such children left in aaya-care will imbibe the true values of character and responsibility we want to give our children?

Whenever I take up this topic, the quick retort I seem to hear and see is a defensiveness that voices the argument or logic of the liberation movement. We must really think deep about how we choose to manoeuvre the mental make-up of our children if we are to nurture a caring community of the future. Unfortunately, we seem to care more about making perfect the moment and the physical outside of the child as we move ever deeper into the throes of a materialistic society. Please be aware that a child brought up in psychological neglect cannot be expected to be a responsible citizen of the future.

In this modern day of communication revolution can we better mediate our living and workplace choices that will allow our home to be more parent-friendly and our children to have close at hand, thoughtful parents and wise grandparents rather than foreign aayas as the source of character building? Let’s remember that when our children turn out bad we have only ourselves to blame. We cannot blame our children or even the aayas.  

December 18, 2013

Morning musings

A morning walk in the brisk chill of a sunny Carolina winter, and I see a caution sign planted in the manicured green along the pathway, “Pet waste spreads disease - fine 20-200 dollars! Please clean up after your pet and keep on leash!” To me this was great reflection of a sense of community responsibility. Yet another thought too sprang up in my mind as my morning walks usually do as I commune with nature. Why keep pets in the first place? Yes, it’s an opportunity to show our love. But why do it to an animal? Don't we have enough human beings needing love? Maybe many think they don't have the opportunity to do so and therefore show it to an animal. But then how many have thought deeply on this urge to show love and not have sought the many ways one could do that for human beings in need? Or is it that here too our selfishness gets the better of us unawares? Is it that we want to keep our investments of love under our control - albeit having the dog or cat or other with us, so that our investment is “protected”? When the cat or dog gets lost by any chance, do we feel sad and distraught because we have lost our investment? Why can't it be that this loss is not seen as a loss, that this investment in another is seen as something done for the good of a sentient being? Why can't we give more to society as a show of love? Is it that this same scenario of selfishness plays out even when we give out our benevolence in cash or kind to humanity; that this giving may turn out in a way that what I give maybe used in a wrong way? Many such excuses as ego-nudging go on unfettered. 

I would say here that it is not our concern when we truly give with our heart behind the giving. Whatever the other does with what we give is for that person's Dharma to dictate. Our calling by God is to give and hope to make a difference in this world. We cannot make the world the ideal world that we want it to be, and in fact we may never even know if that ideal world we have in our mental picture should be the ideal world for everyone. Ultimately it is God that will enable us to find that ideal that we may not even know. Our job is to just keep giving and keep our trust in that Providential Source. 

December 9, 2013

Bonded in democracy

Democracies in developing nations seem to keep up the vestiges of bondage in one way or the other. Take for example those who are dependent on public service jobs for their subsistence. Scores of people fit this category especially in smaller nations. When their position is under threat of loss, the mental agony of uncertainty can be excruciating. Where can they go to find the means to eat and look after their families? This stress is worse in those with increased family responsibilities or their age hiking beyond the middle age. Loss of a job means only the painful safety of a few month savings as bolster at best. Most times those who don't own their own abodes but are renters face the fear of loss of this security also. Thus out goes what holds our self-respect and human dignity. So what is the solution for this state of affairs?

Modern democracies seem the solution even as we continue to say that even with its faults, there is no better one for governance available.  Perhaps that is why we in Maldives also decided to opt for it. Yet, that element of domination we want dispelled from it seems still there for keeps.  We are provided the ‘shelter’ of parties or such loyalty just like in the past when there were godfathers in society who safeguarded our 'safety' for a price. New fabrications of democracy ensure only too well this safety by the purchase of our allegiance of obedience in so many ways. Yet in the fluid environment of political intrigue that lines the edifice of our democratic life, the anchor of such support is fleeting even though seemingly certain. Given the emotions of a moment -- today's supporter maybe tomorrow’s adversary. But the hapless member -follower needs this thread of a tether and lays his life and human dignity on this flimsy hope of gifts his subordination will bring. When this hope is shattered as is often, he moves to the shadows of others who will give him that momentary shelter of security he yearns, and this iteration of a charade proceeds in an unending cycle of political titillation. So goes the play of security and freedom in our minds in democracy.

This story is not unfamiliar to our fledgling democratic experience in Maldives either.  Our populace most of whom look to the public sector for employment and mental security are mired in this uncertainty. The inherent mercurial nature of politics cannot give sustainable succor to our insecure minds as long as the causes of our insecurity are not addressed. 

The solution has to be a turn for compassion in democracy. Fortunately, our smaller communities can exercise this attitude even though the larger ones may not be able to so quickly. In these early days of our democratic experience we should vigorously attempt to give the basics of security to our people such as secure housing, pension schemes and health care to still our anxiety of old age when we can work no more to earn, the relevant quality of education for our children or the access to loans to allay the remaining insecurities in our lives.  When compassion is exercised in the giving, responsibilities can also be evoked from the receiver much more easily. Short of this, our democracies can only be empty shells under which we live out our lives in the irony of bondage.

December 7, 2013

Icons are forever

A legend has departed. Mr Nelson Mandela will be remembered for transforming the political and moral path of Africa and the world. It is bewildering to behold in this day and age how one soul can do so much to lift the moral fabric of our lives by the show of role-modelling. His struggle for liberation from the yoke of human domination that societies fabricate was the genesis of his early political activism. But I am most touched by his courage of forgiveness; of his ability for laying down his bitterness towards those who perpetrated his persecution and took away close to three decades of his life to incarceration. And still continued tirelessly the emphasis for national reconciliation. He did not seek avenge for his losses, but instead exercised compassion. Yes, periodically, Providence thrusts such icons into our midst like lighthouses that should illuminate the darkness of our lives to keep us from treacherous corals. We pray for more of such souls to grace our terrestrial path. 

We need to learn from such lives of forgiveness to make our nation too free of division and conflict and embrace tolerance and social harmony.  

December 5, 2013

The value of a smile

The girl at the memo counter kept her eyes on her work as she reach out her hand to take the prescription for an x-ray that I held in my extended hand. "The ID card!" She said, her eyes still focused on the keyboard of her computer into which she was punching in the information. Soon she had a print-out that she handed over to me -- still her eyes not meeting mine nor any expression of even a whiff of a smile that could impress me as a patient or customer. I wait for just another moment hoping to see that hint of a smile light up her face -- for I wanted so much to see that it is the human touch that makes for quality of care -- not the physical facilities in an institution as most would want to think. Alas! That smile never emerged.

This episode could be counted at many of our counters, in travel offices, hospitals, government offices, and many other service spots. What's the value of a smile? It matters the world of good -- for spreading kindness, good will and compassion. Alas! In our country we have lost much of that touch as we lean strong into the ways of development and competition and big egos, leaving behind not even as vestiges the good of neighborliness and sharing that our forefathers had left for us. But the contradiction is that in this new age of the business and personality ethic, smiles are much of today's fare, even though plastic. Are we losing both worlds?

Can we do something to revive these? A smile doesn't cost us anything and yet we are reluctant to give it.

November 17, 2013

Titillations in democracy

Yes, it’s yet another national dawn! Congratulations to the winning coalition in this closely run race of electing a steward to the highest political post in Maldives.

The democratic process is fraught with surprises. Perhaps this is what makes this scintillating process such an enticing one too. It gives the public the opportunity to elect their keeper for a defined term and it also provides for a chance to change when the need arises. The power of the people is the decider here however flimsy the differences in support may be. We see this excitement of competition in our country for whatever it is worth in our schools, on our playgrounds, in the marketplace, and now increasingly so in the political arena.

Wherever there is a vying for status, and as we face the competitive nature of the new life that beckons us in any societal setting, politics plays its part. Along this path, the titillations experienced are an inevitable part of the process. One day we win and on another we lose. Being aware of this should make us humble rather than proud, for ultimately we can never be too cocky of how our future will treat us. But as human beings we are indeed very forgetful. Ultimately it is the Hand of Providence that makes that singular decision for us. Allah's reason for such decisions is in this regard beyond our wildest hope of comprehension. The reasons we may never know. But the humility with which we accept this benevolent favour is certainly within our control. Congratulations to the contenders for allowing a peaceful election day that rings positively in the public’s ear. But Alas! Only one can win on any given day.  Let us cherish the decision! Let us practice humility! Let us celebrate Allah's Grace!

November 3, 2013

From good to thoughtful

“My son is a very good boy,” a young parent told me the other day as we discussed the issue of Maldivian youth of today. “He respects people, does what he’s told and mostly mind’s his own business,” he continued.

I was touched by this frankness, yet surprised by his naiveté. For in this modern day and age, that good just doesn’t seem enough. At a time when parents are living longer and children not taking initiative to begin a life of their own even as the parents enjoy this longevity seems a bit misplaced. In the past, when our life expectancy was no more than about 50 years or so, it was time for the grandparent to exit when the grand children had their dose of grand-parenting, and the next in line of parents taking over and establishing the cycle of life just as the consequence. But now with the grandparents around for yet another 20 years or more – and inshaaAllah, in good health and good earning via the dividends from their jobs or investment, the young sibling parents and even those old enough to be parents, live off the earnings of the grandparent. When asked why don’t you support your family or what would happen when your parents were to be no more, the young parents’ retort would be that they would think about it when the time came.

While just being good and respectful is still valuable in today’s world, the move from just being there and thoughtless to being perceptively thoughtful is so very important and absolutely necessary. I would say that the lack of life-skilled young people today in Maldives (look at all the expatriate guest workers we have in our country doing these for us!) and the unrest that the idle young people demonstrate in our present moment is a reflection of the lack of breeding our new-age parents and grandparents of today have brought on their offspring. We can’t blame the kids for being the way they are. There’s always a reason for much of the anxiety and related consequences we see today. Grandparents and those on the verge of being grandparents need to own up to these flaws that we had precipitated in the past as parents. And yes, in response, we can also play the blame game because those who are blamed can always blame their immediate past and the chain of blame can go on and on unlimited. The way to heal our community of this is for us to wake up to the reality of the present moment – that it is only through the use of the opportunities in this present that we can change tomorrow. Merely blaming or lamenting the past can only further delay the healing and happiness that await us in our future. Let’s rise to the needs of our Nation to nurture a more thoughtful Maldivian polity of the future by being grounded in the “now”, not in the regrets and blame of the past!

September 25, 2013

Compassion is the link

This old man Yahya was the life of our household when he was in his thirties and I was just a child. He would chop firewood, climb tall coconut trees to clean these of beetle and rat infestations, brave the high seas in the monsoon time to get to uninhabited islands to collect firewood and coconut for our household, he would cut and clean the hundreds of fish that would fill our backyard sometimes that our mas-dhoni hauls in, into the wee hours of the night, and then sometimes even join the fishermen of our dhoni that dawning morn as a supplementary deck hand. He would carry heavy bundles of firewood on his head to the house and carry away the trash to the beach-side for disposal. This trash was primarily vegetable matter in those days with little non-biodegradable content. He would help the neighbor with mixing the mortar for building or repairing his wall or house, and through all this also help out to keep our home livable daily by meticulously cleaning the coconut-oil wick lamps that would provide the dim illumination to our house and keep the dining room laid out for our meals on time. His long strides from the wood-kitchen to the dining room in the backyard was often the moment during which he would munch his large mouthfuls of rice and fish that would be his meal for that time with little time spent actually sitting for a meal. Such was his energy and dedication. And yet during the sparse free moments he got, he would spend with me, fashioning little items of play from coconut fronds or pieces of drift wood that I would marvel on for hours with imagination let loose to as far as I could wonder.
Now he is truly old, touching ninety and spending most of his time lying on his side on the bodu-ashi that is his bed of his little ramshackle abode he calls home. With little to say except responding to his call for meal times, he lays there alone in his reverie. His only provisions are packed in the old suitcase he has tucked at the corner of this ashi along with another cardboard box that has the stuff for his immediate needs. He is now blind in his other eye too, and like a child, has to be helped with food and drink. He traverses the little space from his ashi to his bathroom with only the room’s side wall to help him navigate this space, sometimes his incontinence dripping to the floor the urine which we have to wash away with a bucket of water each time. 

While our family still takes care of his meals and major cleaning which my sister orchestrates so well each day, this little neighbor boy is his friend now for we have all grown up and moved on our way in our lives dispersed through Maldives and the world. I met this little boy when I visited my island a few months ago and I was fascinated by the attention he gave to Yahya. The affection in the photo was not doctored but was the natural move the boy made when I pointed the camera at them. The sight of his little hand on Yahya’s shoulder was to me very telling of nature’s imperative of the connection between the young and old, yet unexpected now in a society that seemed laced with an increasing intensity of selfishness, competitiveness, and greed that come from the enticement of the growing materialism in our country. The root of this connection was momentarily sparked in my mind by this loving moment. Yes, and this is not just a solitary moment of affection it appears; the boy visits Yahya several times during his weekend away from school and gives him foot and back rubs with the touch of a vestige that I believe he got from the genetics of compassion of a distance past. We all must have these genes but their potential need to be sought out from the mire of our selfish selves. We will then realize that this is the real treasure we are blind to as we are blinded by the glitter of the world. 

Caring for the old will spark that search. It does not have to be an aging household help such as Yahya, but given our nation’s longevity, our own grand or great-grandparents may now be in this grand old age when we can re-energize our engagement with compassion in real time and space.  

September 23, 2013

Boorishness cannot be our nature

The pathetic condition in our Majlis is an indication of how our nation is plummeting into a morass of indecency. Every nation seems to espouse democratic institutions to fulfil the purpose of national harmony and through this development. The Majlis is the institution of our democratic framework that crafts and issues the edicts by which our lives are steered. But the people we put into it are those we elect. Therefore, it is our – the Maldivian citizen's -- responsibility to put responsible people into the seats that make the rules and regulations that help us live our lives in fairness and peace.

But the debacle on the Majlis floor we witnessed yesterday and last night before the whole nation was one that questioned our very understanding of the system of governance that we attempt to revere.
We surely don't want our children to be tarnished with thoughts that streak democracy with dirt. What have we left as decent human beings when we trample the very institution that is to bring us peace? Condoning none, we must all shed tears on what is happening to our Nation.

Dear citizens of Maldives, we are not spectators in a soccer match or a boorish brawl in the market place in which we just watch in awe for the novelty of it or the spectacle of it. Please, we cannot allow our Nation to slip into this morass of irresponsibility. The consequences are stark. We will sink deeper in to this pit and will have to bear decades of hardship to get out even if we begin our process of conciliation even as early as tomorrow. The longer we wait, the longer will be the period of our lament. We have lost precious ground upon which peace and harmony was possible but greed, selfishness and competition have usurped from our Nation that possibility at least for the short term. We as citizens have to bear the responsibility and the consequences the will ensue.

We need to take time to reflect and make peace between our ego and our soul. Even as I say this I realize that this may be a contradiction, for our soul will not compromise on giving up the good that it embodies. We will have to face the stark reality that our ego is the culprit and we need to control that whisperer in us that lead us along the crooked path.The edicts of materialism that is laced with such defilements cannot save us. Only the edicts of Islam practiced in their essence can save us!    

September 21, 2013

The evanescence of our party allure

Why do we change ship so quickly? Like quicksilver the shameless shine continues and like water we seem to be able to fit any shape of any vessel we seek to occupy. So versatile are we in the circumstance of such manoeuvres.

So what's the worth of a party where its basis means nothing, whose philosophy inspires no one and its actions only divide society. Such profiles don't make a party but describes a mere crowd bordering on being a clique if it is to promote mere selves, or a gang - if the motives are to create mischief in society rather than concord. If we want democracy to succeed, we the public must ensure that parties built on personalities are nothing worth being part of - for it will only make us worship a human being rather than a revered moral principle. The difference is that with principles, they tend to be timeless whereas with personalities we adore, they are alas time bound.

Just imagine, what would the fate of our parties be if the leader that each holds with such reverence ceases to be! Yes, people perish, and principles cherish; that's what our Religion teaches us too.

September 18, 2013

Mere following is not enough

In life there are followers and leaders; Leaders lead and followers follow - simple enough. But not simple enough if the following is to be a consequence of an active processing of weighing pros and cons and the resulting personal decision being the reason for following rather than being like a hoard of humans merely corralled. In this latter case it is mere passivity that is the dynamic and has little human element.

In democracy this parochial ideal of followers and leaders change 180 degrees. The followers are really the leaders and the leaders are the followers -- of the wishes of the people. The struggle and challenge in every democratic society is the wriggling out from the vestiges of thinking in an oppressed past into a moment of freedom where one can exercise his or her decision with responsibility. As we all know, with great power -- that inherent attribute vested in the democratic process -- come great responsibility. This means, without the exercise of responsibility - that reflection needed to ascertain the good or bad consequence of the action we take - the power of freedom that we inherit in democracy is meaningless for in such a case we go back into the jungle.

Our follower-ship must be imbued with active reflection upon which we are asked to follow. Only when we become thinking human beings can we materialize democracy into the vibrancy it deserves. Otherwise it will be just old wine in new bottles so to say.

September 10, 2013

An epidemic of lung cancer awaits us!

The sight of a young man in soccer attire with a cigarette dangling from his lips, zipping down Alikilegefaanu-magu in Male this morning suddenly brought to my mind the results of yesterday’s Maldives SAFF soccer match-up in Kathmandu against the Indian side.  Low altitude practice in Maldives having to show in a high altitude match is not the only thing that could have made our side less formidable as it was on paper. I would think the lung capacity that could have been, was hampered ever more by the cigarette smoking that our young soccer stars seems to take to very lightly. Who knows, with more discipline in these departments we could have made the difference between a delightful win and the heart-breaking loss as was experienced yesterday and the deplorable spectacle that ensued at this bitter end. 

Being a health professional, I know that cigarette smoking is definitely harmful to health. In our youth we hardly notice that anything could hurt us – perhaps that is the beauty and the folly of youth also. But being the educated lot that we are after at least 50 years of modern schooling in our country, we must learn to look at the evidence and take some decisions that are based on science. Gone are the days when we did not know the dangers of smoking; we have had at least 30 years of anti-tobacco lobby and policies from the government, but the public don’t seem to care, and after the last local anti–tobacco legislation was out this year, coming on the coattails of the global convention on tobacco by the World Health Organization, the practice that was to have been curtailed has in fact snowballed on our streets, and in our cafes and homes. 

The dangers of smoking are by now scientifically proved and even as we may defensively say that my life is mine and you don’t have to tell me what to do with my life, the truth is that by doing what we do so effortlessly and thoughtlessly, we are actually costing our Nation a huge health bill. Our colds and coughs and other lung problems are the result of our smoking as a nation. Just go into any of our mosques and hear the sneezes and coughs that seem never ending. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t have to stop going to mosque because of it, but just be careful to have a tissue or hankie ready to cover your mouth and nose, just in case; or carry a mask, as we do in Hajj or Umra, in case you are nursing a cold. We can’t now blame the wood-stoves that our grandmothers used for the epidemic of acute respiratory infections that we are now experiencing even as we have the most pristine God given air in our beautiful country. Yet we hope to pollute our lungs with that dirty smoke heavily laced with a thousand or more harmful chemicals that each puff of our inhaled smoke has. I would predict an epidemic of lung cancer in our beautiful country in the not too distant future.

So can we be aware of the folly we are beset with. Again I have to refer to Lord Bernard Shaw’s jocular definition of the cigarette, that; “it is a white long cylindrical object with a fire at one end, and a fool at the other”. But then this is serious too; our foolishness cannot be denied when we perpetrate our act of buying with our own money, that very thing in the market, that when used exactly as prescribed, will kill you or maim you. So how foolish can this be!? And I see a very popular shop and many others that sell this hideous stuff in Male. I would say to them, let’s make profit from things that don’t harm us. Let’s also be aware of the insidious and deceptive nature of the big global tobacco houses that produce these “killers that travel in packets” and fool you daily into using it through depicting to the receptive young mind that this is “cool” and the way to feel sophisticated and modern. All this is just yarns that they spin to get you hooked. And when you do, there is no end to the cycle of desire this creates. 

Take it from me as one who was hooked for about a decade of my youth and mercifully got out of it. Unlike now, they got me hooked long before all this noise of the dangers of smoking was out, but then I had to have the moral front to practice what I preached when I was working in the health ministry in Maldives in the heydays of the anti-tobacco lobby by the world organization and the health Ministry was the partner. We all made the valiant effort to show by example, and today, I feel personally so blessed, yet sorry for our youth. Thus I feel I have this moral imperative to tell the youth of today, that it is NOT COOL to smoke as the adverts may tell you; it is  really the digging of your own  grave shovel by shovel or incarcerating yourselves in a prison of ill health brick by brick. Please wake up, your parents need you to be in good health, your children need you to be in good health, and the nation needs you to be in good health. Otherwise, let’s welcome a sick Maldives in 2025.   

September 3, 2013

A good show

The Presidential debate in Maldives the other day readying for the elections on the 7th, was a great spectacle to behold. Great preparations for it by the sponsors and an eager audience at the site and I hear a huge viewership on TV and social media. The big four were ready for the questions and articulate in their responses, and seemed forthright and well behaved for the most part.

To me this was perfect event for this moment, given the raucous in our homes and streets and wall spaces.  The responses were nothing spectacularly different to those we have been hearing on the TV channels, but the fact that they were all there together must have given the viewership, as it was for me, a leveling experience, beyond the individual bloat their TV channels gave each of them. Yet, I wonder whether this spectacle of the four on stage together may have moved hearts and minds from the groove of political affiliation that we all seem to hold so glued to. I say this because – in our case in Maldives - of the emotional attachment we all seem to have to each of our cherished candidates.  It would seem that no verbal or physical show or glitter can move us from our vantage of our support.  There are other things that can, I submit, but not an analysis of what the candidates said, even with the conviction that they did on that stage.  

So what is the purpose of the debate? To me it was the opportunity to see the four together and the occasion to measure one against the other in common public space. Such shows provide us the moment to compare the promises and assurances our candidates make in common space and time. This has a warming effect of seeing leaders in a democracy as normal human beings like us, thrust  before us in the existential moment, for a struggle of making themselves seem credible to us – in a moment where they have no advantage of a TV channel or converted viewership to give unbridled confidence.  Here, everybody is watching – a multi-party viewership, and perhaps for the first time for many to see their idol juxtaposed with others, away from the comfort  zone of being in the midst of the supportive arms of fans and followers. It is a leveling experience for the audience, and I am sure for the candidates too. 

It was a good show. Congratulations to the sponsors!

August 28, 2013

Good-bye Dear Samad

Good-bye Samad our beloved friend!

You are gone and we are in two separate worlds suddenly. I look out of my window and I see the sunshine of a balmy Maldivian morning outside and suddenly realize that I will never see you again – every again – to experiences the joy of chatting with you in the ambience of your modest sitting room or share the taste of a simple Maldivian breakfast with you as as we stop-over at your house from a morning walk. We will miss your stock of hilarious jokes and the unstoppable laughter those bring out from within us we never thought was there; the chats and the wild banter that could span forever and yet keep us sitting up for more, with thoughts that span the time from our childhood together to the mutual moments of our work environment in the service of national and international health. We seem to never have parted company over these past fifty years or so. And now this tether is suddenly torn away by the inevitability of this human moment that we all must alas experience. It can now be only memories that keep us together.

In this moment, I yet again realize the wonder and complexity of life – the flimsiness of this existence;  the tantalizing that goes on in this worldly moment of ours often with not a sliver of a realization of this eventuality is how our lives are lived. It dawns on me yet again that the selfishness we inject into our lives will envelope us inevitably if our thoughts never toggle this moment of our sure exit from this worldly sojourn. What keeps our thoughts intact and in sync even as we traverse the other side of our existence is love -- the love that is given in this world when you do have the choice. You helped us share this always and showed it in so many ways as brothers and with other brothers and sisters in this existential part of our journey together. You kept us all reminded of the connection we have with the heart as we traversed the length and breadth or our lives in the many sweet moments of our chats and laughter and advice in both friendship and mentorship. At long last Allah gave you the pinnacle position you so deserved in society for the wonderful man you were.  Our moments of heart is the thread that will keep us in the bind that we all cherish. Everything else will perish. And finally we too will have to make our exit just like you have with the never-ending sounds of laughter in our hearts and tears in the eyes of those we leave behind. 

Rest in peace my friend, and may Allah give you your place in the Garden of Delight.

August 16, 2013

Character or personality - that is the question

A book I am reading now jettisoned me onto this topic as a basic aspect of how we relate to the human environment that envelope us. These two aspects of the human essence, not a new topic at all, yet timeless in their essence, is a behavioral vista we juggle as we move through life – given the context we would like to inhabit. Our Islam professes to the virtues and vicissitudes of these. Aristotle in the Oracle days, and the 18th century philosophers broached these in one way or another. Turn of the last century guru Dale Carnegie famously wrote about it and taught this, and more recently modern day writers and seers such as Chopra, Covey,  Tolle, Krishnamurty and others began a conversation on this human duality, and now I have this book that I am reading. Whether in politics or in the movement of everyday life, these are two sides of the same coin so to say. But they do have distinct defining aspects and a genesis that links each to the social ethic that has morphed over these past centuries.

Early ethics brought in the idea of Character. This is necessary for nurturing a civilized society where we learn to respect each other and value the virtues of each person as a contributing element to the societal whole. We all together make the whole and even expand the final entity beyond the contribution of each element. Thus character is the essence of our true self or "spirit". This is even considered divine as this relates always to the good in us, and it is built up in each of us through experiencing the hardships of life. In bringing up children the traditional approach called for us to get our hands dirty and experience the hardships or "suffering" that life embodies. So when the next generations take up the mantle of responsibility, they are ready for putting all hands on deck.

But the turn of the 20th century brought in the wave of globalization and industrialization and the business ethic which was about making the customer buy and be influenced into wanting all that is produced on the assembly lines or in the sweatshops of big business. Thus was born the Personality ethic. This in spiritual terms is linked to the ego and the vanity that we all embody. Being beautiful and showy, being smart even to the point of deceptiveness, being loud and skilled in argument, are all celebrated and linked with this ethic's emergence. The explosion of the personality ethic in the marketing of our goods and services transformed the 20th century world into a powerhouse of wealth generation, competitiveness and social conflict that we see today. Gone now seems to be the days of sharing and caring as we all gravitate blindly to looking good with plastic smiles and attitudes that are only temporary and that glaze only the surface of our minds. Looking good and the lure of the moment is the keeping quality of the Personality ethic. It thrives on deceptiveness and guile that attempts to fool the buyer of the product time and time again, and we assume the  receptivity for this ethic by the power of our vanity that makes us want to just look good if nothing at all. The adverts that deceive us daily to buy household chemical cleaners that degrade our environment and our health, baby nappies of various brands and absorption capacity that litter our beautiful reefs, cigarettes that maim and kill us insidiously, clothes that make us look half or more exposed and yet we admire in the name of fashion and modernization, and desire them just because someone lured us into believing they look cool. Yes the personality ethic has us all playing up to the folly of the “emperor’s new clothes” so to say, and we are oblivious to the fact that whatever vestige of character we may have had lingering within us is being choked by this ego based aspect of our being.

We need to reclaim the character ethic if we are to survive as loving and sharing communities. 

August 12, 2013

Good-bye my friend!

Today, our dear friend Ahmed Wajeeh, the health worker, said good-bye to us from this world forever . The recent years of suffering he endured from a not-so common ailment took its final toll in the bright and early hours of a beautifully sunny Maldivian morning. This is the irony that life sometimes thrusts on us. That Wajeeh, who worked indefatigably to bring health to our Maldivian population for almost four decades of his working life should succumb to ill health himself in so untimely a manner is the contradiction in this our left-brain dominated rational world of ours. Yet, we must know that Allah works in mysterious ways, perhaps to show us that linearity is really not the way of the world. That age is not the factor that determines our life-span. That He can take us when He wants and how He wants. That what happens must have unfathomable and hidden meanings that our shallow minds cannot comprehend.

But dear Wajeeh, we all who have worked with you, quietly admired you. We know that your life spent in the service of health to the hilt was spent in selfless dedication. You were patiently modest and your “for-ever-helpful” attitude was the spark of admiration that drew us to you so strongly. You were jovial, and matter-of fact, yet so committed. Your role during those formative days of the mobile health team that thrust you to the surface of notice in my mind and among your colleagues, and your role after that you spent in quietly leading the juniors in the nurturing of their commitment, is the stellar example that we would all like to emulate. You showed us that dependability is not impossible when your heart is given to service, and you exemplified this strength of modesty throughout your short life -- perhaps it came so naturally to you. Our lives take us along many paths, and although for me it has been a long time spent away from the friendship we share with you and those of your colleagues whose past is in so many ways intertwined with mine, I never felt far away. My heart was and still is with all of you Unsung Heroes. And you were a special one Wajeeh that stood out in my mind, even though to those everyday masses you were just another health worker of a bygone era whose work had not been remembered fondly enough.

And today, you have traversed the boundary that we all must indeed traverse one day. And so, I pray to Allah Almighty to give you the honor and blessings you so deserve in the Garden of Delight. Good-bye my dear friend! This is a wish from all of us dedicated to the health of our Nation, who love you and who will remember you always. You will always remain in our hearts!

August 9, 2013

Straight roads?

In a place like Maldives what is the enticement of straight roads? Why not winding ones?

In my last visit to Hanimaadhoo, I was sadly awe struck by the Island Council’s adamant desire to have the islands roads done in straight lines. My concern for this arose from the love I have for the environment. And given the world’s preoccupation with this aspect of development and the precariousness of ours, we need to save the trees. And in Hanimaadhoo I was fascinated by the huge and majestic nika and kaani trees that provide shade to us inhabitants and home for the birds and the biodiversity that we need so much to maintain a fragile environment such as ours. It’s not enough for us to protect the reefs and the mangroves; we need to protect these majestic edifices we have had for ages on these little emerald islands that we call our home. Winding roads would be just fine, wouldn't it, if we can save the trees?  

August 5, 2013

Good or bad is in the mind of the beholder

The presidential elections in Maldives is now on full throttle to culminate on 7 September, and the thought that comes to many a mind within the polity is about what constitutes a good person or a bad one. Is there really a good or bad person per se? How come someone is good for one person and then this same person is seen as bad by another person? How can one person be both good and bad? It cannot be we would say.

God created each one of us as a neutral being. We pick up our opinions as we go along in life and become the individuals that we think we are. The reality for us is this separation we perceive in this world of form that comes from our mental make-up. Try as we may to insulate ourselves or segregate our physical selves into man-made social, economic or political compartments, we cannot truly be separate from the oneness we were create as. So the essence of our being is still that God given element of the soul or real-self within. When one person judges another as good or bad, it is only an expressed opinion based on those sensibilities accumulated along one’s life process. So when I see another as bad that is my self-view and similarly when another sees that same person as bad it is that observer's thoughts, attitudes or intentions that makes for the good or bad that he sees. In other words it is I, the observer, that decides who is good or who is bad. Curiously, the observer phenomenon is something even quantum physics alludes to in what makes the universe what it is; if we want to measure quanta "those packets of light" that is the known smallest particles of our universe's make-up, we can measure these as waves or particles (yes, it can be two things at the same time -- just like each one of us can be perceived as good or bad) depending on our wish to measure it one way or the other. Thus do we create the perceptions of our universe and then then the confluence of these views becomes the collective view of a society that prevails for us as our perceived environment. So a society can see itself along a continuum of perceptions -- as cruel, conniving and violent on the one extreme or loving and compassionate on the other - or somewhere in between.

The point here is that we create our vision of the world and then we live it - loving it or hating it or somewhere in between; often not being aware that it is we ourselves that create the joy or misery that we live in. Therefore there is hope for violent societies to become loving if only we become aware of this responsibility we have to shoulder as participants within our universe. If we don't or if we choose not to rectify our situation even after we become aware of this possibility, then we will continue to live our lives with misery in our hearts. Thus, social harmony is within our calling if we should want it so.

July 30, 2013

An uncomfortable harmony

The campaign hype in our Nation is on its homestretch, and we see its glitter exploding before our eyes in the crowed space of Male and the islands and on our living rooms’ illuminated plasma screens.

Our present situation does not seem like harmony, yet we all seem to want social harmony. We tend to push our views in arrogance at the expense of what others express. No doubt, it’s not easy to accept others views when our ego gets in the way of rationality. In Maldives too, as in the globalizing world, the ego plays out a big part of our lives even though we may not be aware of it. Our political parties, the source of our divisions in our society, are fueled by the power of the ego. There is nothing of an ideology worth its salt to propel their being. Is it the protection the environment, an advocacy for small government, the push for a social idea, or ethnic space? The list could go on, but unfortunately, in our multi-party democracy, we have only wannabe presidents with their coteries forming our so called parties. Those hanging on or are enticed into their fold are those groping in the hope of big gifts either momentarily or when the winning is ensured. All the hope and excitement is about “what’s in it for ME” rather than “what’s in it for the Nation”’ no doubt the ego playing its part to the hilt and sadly we are not aware of it one bit. Each one in the party lead echelons is drooling at the prospect of the high post or comfortable berth one would get when the win in September is ensured – how can it not; they must get their “pound of flesh”. The gamble on such gain makes us forget the pristine edicts of Islam that calls for the opposite of all what our desiring minds are engaged in. How easily we are swayed by the ego and the world? How easy it is for us to jump ship from party to party, in betrayal and greed to see how we can get a piece of the action before someone else will? Alas! How do we build a nation of peace while mired in such pandemonium? Can we have the harmony we need in this chaos of selfishness?

I see two ways to have our national harmony, we can have it by promoting love and camaraderie which will give us lasting peace as propitiated by Islam, or by enforcing it - like despotic regimes do, but which will keep the smoldering embers waiting to be ignited whenever that artificial facade of calmness is removed or shattered.  And then a fulminating chaos will again be born just as it seems to be the case even at the present political stage in our lives.

The dream of democracy is harmony in diversity. For Maldives this question of diversity that is so distinguishable in character as in so many other countries does not arise. Yes, human beings will have differing mental images of what the world they seek to be. But these are not so ideologically or socially diverse to deserve a mass calling. Yet we have chosen to divide ourselves just because someone said that democracy is implementable only through a party process, not hesitating for one moment to weigh the pros and cons of an alien approach as it would apply to our homogeneous small nation. The result is out there to see, and to put Humpty Dumpty together again would take ages, if we let an organic process to prevail. But we can all come to our senses and reflect into our inner being as to how our ego is fooling us to be foes of our brothers and our sisters in nationhood and religion. We are taking to heart every indication our ego gives us to be taken for the ride. We need to wake up and look at our Nation for the future we want to build for our posterity. Yes, building harmony is only possible with reflection, patience, forgiveness and a suppressed ego when we are able to entertain a multitude of differing views without getting emotionally involved. By stepping back from the crowd and seeing it for the foolishness it is perpetrating.

Such intense conditioning requires a deep reflection into the depth of our being to drag out our suppressed inhibitions, fears and anger. Such defensiveness when exposed and expiated will be when we can have lasting harmony in our societies. We need to hope, dream and work to make those dreams become reality in some urgency. 

July 22, 2013

The prize of service

Society progresses by engaging in giving rather than being engaged in getting. In getting we are selling our capabilities for price that is measured in monetary gain. This is done not with the purpose of giving our services with love but with a motive at the end of fulfilling our egos desires. This is most often tainted with selfishness. Perhaps the one you are working for is also doing that task for his selfish motives of personal gain. Thus this selfishness becomes a chain of selfish motives that encompass a whole community. We are immersed in doing the tasks that we do with the hope of getting a prize at the end of it. What keeps our attention is the prize or the jackpot. The means become secondary in importance. We may fudge or cheat or connive to get a piece of work done all for the gain of the prize. We thus infuse society with this same aura of selfishness and the distrust and suspicion that goes with such actions.

On the other hand service oriented work is infused with compassion and affection. What one seeks in this type of service is the quality of the giving. When the object of the giving which is the benefit to society,  there is another kind of aura that pervades such contexts. The positive aura is a result of it being in the same wavelength of that signified by our creation. Creation and service are imbued with similar auras that form the essence of our human being --love and compassion.

Here too, like in selfish work, there is a chain of actions. Those who engage in selfless work that is service oriented is serving an intermediate activity or seeking to achieve an intermediate objective of a higher service. A community drive towards caring for the old is but one link in a chain of activities that seek to bring compassion into society. One may trace the action links of this chain to promoting more harmonious families which in turn is related to nurturing caring societies. Can we carry that further to say it is to form a caring nation and further on to build a more caring world?

Selfish deeds don't have this aura of converging society but lots about dividing it and there is no harmony in division, only conflict. So, there is no other way to bring in loving kindness into a society without reducing the divisions in it.

July 20, 2013

21st century democracy

A new century and a new paradigm in governance! We need a democracy without corruption. This is what should divide the last and this century.

That democracy is indeed regressing in many parts of the world is not difficult to see in what floods our living rooms through TV and internet. Statistics show that only a quarter of the world’s nations have seemingly well-functioning democratic regimes. Another quarter is deemed as flawed democracies, and a whopping half falling into the category of corruptive and autocratic rule, even if they maybe labelled democracies. That means every other democracy is flawed, malfunctioning of defunct. And the situation is not improving. The so-called third wave of democratization of the world’s nations that began in the mid-1970s has now turned many into failed states by the end of the 20th century. It appears that even in the ‘developed’ world, this paradigm seems to be taking heavy breaths. Voter turnout is dwindling and thus public participation, the engine that drives democracy, seems to be on the ebb.

The biggest reason for this is the loss of leader credibility. In a democracy, these persons are actually the servants of the people, whatever personal hype they may garner by the enticement engendered by the grandiose promises they make during campaign time. The public also are fickle and capricious and their character easily changed, no doubt moulded by the years of materialistic mentality nurtured by the capitalist philosophy created by the industrial revolution. We the public are easily bought by the glittery presents that are promised and we cannot blame ourselves totally also, because one’s mental make-up shaped by years of servitude, takes generations to be re-hardwired. Meanwhile politicians make hay, and take us the public for the ride year after year.

In Maldives, the same thing is happening and while many that I talk to are disillusioned by the fraying or our socially cohesive fabric that has been for so long nurtured by the Grace of Islam, we are however easily enticed by the tinsel offered by our servants to be. Corruption in the form of using public office for personal gains and the draining of our exchequer on outlandish capital projects could be captioned as highway robbery by those in high positions in connivance with cronies in the system. Yet our independent commissions are in no capacity to rise to the occasion of their mandate because they have been hardwired also in the old ways. So, with gigantic salaries and perks financed from public money, they sit ensconced because the hapless and politically illiterate public are not organized enough to bring them to the task of being the ombudsmen they are supposed to be. No wonder that the global corruption index fares Maldives way in the dumps with other global heavy-weights - a sprat among the whales. Why does this have to be in a tiny nation such as ours where happiness should prevail in the cool shade of our God-given resources of a paradise on earth. Intelligent and unselfish visioning of what we want Maldives to be for our children and grandchildren will bring to our minds what kinds of people we need to bring into our home as housekeepers. The vote is the only real and immediate power that we, the people have to bring in good people to tend to our house every five years. 

July 19, 2013

Lighting a candle to dispel the darkness

It is said that to light one candle is better than to sit cursing the total darkness. We in Maldives could in this regard refer to the political darkness we are in where everyone seems to be cursing our common condition of ignorance and no one attempting to find the light that will illuminate this thing we have brought into our midst called democracy. We all seem to want it without actually knowing it. Each one describes it in a different way and yet no one seems to agree with the other. This situation of mental confusion can perhaps be described as our situation of darkness.
In our midst there are so very few who are attempting to light a candle to allay this darkness. Many are perhaps afraid to because someone else might blow it out. Or they have just given up, resigned to be sitting in the dark, considering the situation as irreconcilable.

What's there to do, we sit back and say; Either way we fall into the ditch so to say.

Every path seems to lead somewhere we don’t want to go. There is the path some say to the loss of our identity as Muslims and having to forfeit that foundation we have had all this while. Other paths they say take us back to the shadows of despotism we were in. And others seem to lead us into a dead end where too many cooks can stymie effective operation. Such is the confusion and the impasse we are faced with. Yet no one seems to have the edge to attempt a new path of non-alignment and seek a new identity that is not colored by party rhetoric and behavior. That step only will take us out of this darkness. We cannot continue to curse it; we have to get out of it.

July 9, 2013

Ramzaan Mubaarak!

Dear Rukkuri Visitors and Readers,

Another Ramzaan greets us with hope of sharing and giving and remembering our Maker!. May this month be the beginning of yet another journey into the awareness of our inner selves. During the rest of our eleven months, we focus so much on the world of form that constitute the physical environment we live in. Our bodies, our clothes, our houses and cars and motor cycles and mobile phones. These are the result of creations from people who reflect and learn - and then we use them mindlessly. We too can be such creators of a better environment when we learn to be mindful and reflective through reducing the mental traffic that we are so used to daily -- the desire-filled thoughts of our world of form.

During this month let's focus on our inner-self and pay some attention it truly needs. Not that your soul is crying out for attention but you will learn much valuable stuff from it if you do attend to it, as opposed to the cry-baby-like spoiled child that is your EGO which is always vying for your attention and cannot survive without you giving what it wants. However, let it be, and focus on your true self that is lost in this barrage of noise that the EGO makes. By focusing on your true self, you will become a more caring and loving human being because the discovery of your true self is the discovery that all humanity is ONE.
Salaams galore to you and may Allah Almighty shower his boundless Blessings on you in the days ahead!
Yours in Islam!