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!