December 24, 2015

Our urban dump

On my early morning walk today i saw a guard in front of a shop doing his morning cleaning rituals onto the Majeedhee-magu pavement. He was gurgling out the nightly accumulates of his throat and noisily spitting out and blowing his nose onto the drain and pavement. As I approached him, I couldn't contain the urge to ask him a few questions. Why all this on to the street? Don't you have a toilet? He looked at me blankly perhaps not understanding a word I said. Observing the blank look was sufficient for me for I wasn't looking for answers from him really. But I felt remorse at what our city of Male was turning into; it was his toilet verily in the absence of a toilet provided by the shop-owner.

This is not an isolated case. I have observed other guards even relieving themselves of the urinal variety onto the opposite side of their pavement in this space they feel is legitimate. I know many of our guest workers come from countries that are culturally different from us and some such practices are normal or commonplace even though the ultimate scheme of urban development their public officials also would not want such practices to happen. But for me this is atrocious in our small capital which should in fact be a little garden and not difficult to do except for the carelessness of public officials to the importance of these little value driven behavior but who give superior importance to capital projects that bring visual changes to our urban landscape. No one seems to care about how our behavior is being drastically changed and would be so difficult to rectify when our attitudes are allowed to change this way.

I see the sanitary difference of this physical space we call our city of Male over several decades and I dare say it is degrading lamentably. I even observe now, even though infrequently, amber colored fluid in bottles lying in the premises of our urban street drains. I cannot vouch for what the content is for I do not open these and attempt to smell these to verify. But i can only feel my hunch is valid. At this rate i wonder how long it would be before we feel the waft of the fetid odors of human excrement emanating from our drains! One can take this escalating concern as a human rights issue in regards to our guest workers for those of us who employ them must be responsible enough to give them the needed amenities to live here a life of some dignity. When our public space is degrading we only point fingers at our guest workers who are here because we brought them here and thus we are in fact more responsible for the plight of our city. Not to be outdone, even our own people are accomplice to the epidemic of spitting we see on the street. And another epidemic – of smoking!!

Yes public officials must enforce the tasks they have taken up; their salaries and benefits being fed with public money but it must also be our personal responsibility as Maldivians to reflect on what is happening to our nation in the wake of this modern development path we seem to be so unrelentingly pursuing in the degrading face of human dignity for ourselves and for our employees and our guests to this country. We surely don't like to invite them to a dump. It’s a shame on us. Where is our wonderful Islam which says cleanliness is an integral part of Eman. Would we consider ourselves the embodiment of Eman? Can we be aware of the terrible bind our ego has us trapped in? We forget our own Religion Islam and its sublime edicts in the face of the glitter this world shows us. Like it or not - Iblees has us wrapped around his little finger.

December 13, 2015

Quality time

The family is the building block of society, and over time immemorial, nurturing of children in preparation of another responsible generation has been priority. However, in a globalizing world with many distractions for parents and children alike, the consistency and intensity of family effort has varied or waned and it now seems adrift away with the tide for children to learn life values and the ideals of integrity from peers or from the internet. And this has its verified dangers. 

We always hear that nurturing happens when quality time is spent with the object of our nurturing. Whether it is to nurture an attitude or skill within us or nurture our children with good values and humane feelings, we need to spend time communicating with ourselves or our children the knowledge and feelings that magnify the attitude we want to hone.

But of course, spending time is a general term and many of us feel that just being present with our children is enough to make them feel cared for. Present thinking doesn’t go with this norm. It is now a universal awareness in these circles that nurturing requires spending quality time. This is different to just being with the child or us reading about something. It requires engagement in conscious thought or conversation. The need is to have the communication loop completed and continued for some extended time. It is not enough for a parent to be at home when the child is around, but needs to be engaged with the child in active communication and for the child to be aware that the parent is showing active concern. A cursory ask of how school was today, or a query on how was the game today, may not be enough especially when the parent asks in an act of boring routine.

Quality time engages the heart more than the mind. That is why going out for a walk with your children and doing the things they enjoy will kindle and bind your relationship and these moments become engraved in their memory as moments they will cherish as adults. These are the morsels they carry in their life to give them inspiration and the connection with us in love or admiration for the role model we show. The result will be a better community we leave behind. How many parents spend meal times talking to the phone rather than to the child? How many hours are spent on our computer or our eyes glued to the TV while the kids spend their time with the toys we had given them -- as if the guilt of our neglect will be allayed by the expensive toys we give them and then expect, like a miracle, our children become the characterful human beings we want them to be? No dear parents, they need our attention. We need to sacrifice more of our time to them before they grow up and begin to say they don't need us anymore. Yes, there will be no use crying over spilt milk. Please listen to the song “cat's in the cradle”. It may bring tears to many regretful eyes.

These and many other new habits in our daily life distance us from our children who will doubtlessly be the torchbearers of tomorrow. How many of us care for a better tomorrow for our children? If so we need to reflect on what we are doing today to prepare for that tomorrow.

August 11, 2015

Going to entropy is natural

“Please stop”, I screamed as I came to a halt half way down the curb-crossing that would lead me to the  next spate of the pavement that lines Boduthakurufaanu magu with its many breaks at each block of the atoll fihaara zone in Maafannu. In defense of my safety, I put my hand down on the handlebar of the now halted motor cycle that came zipping towards me to make the turn into the lane even as I was half way along this crossing. Of course, given my grey hair and being a generation or more older than the bike rider, I expected him to momentarily halt and give me the way to cover the next four feet or so of the distance left for me to step on to the next spate of the pavement and then ride away in the space behind me. But to my surprise, the rider who was perhaps approaching middle age, glared at me with knotted eyebrows, pursed his lips in anger or defiance and slid through the narrow space in front of me demonstrating to me vividly that HE had the right of way, not me. For the next moment I stood there quite perplexed for all the road sense that I have got through my many years of driving was that the pedestrian be given preference especially when the person is more than half way down along the crossing and the vehicle turning arriving later.

This case is one of many instances where the chaotic conditions of Male streets have become a hazard to both pedestrians and drivers. The issue here is not just one of driver intolerance but a lack of law enforcement. It is much too difficult and time consuming – often generational – to rectify dwindling social values of a society. Especially more cumbersome it is when the complement of that society is changing constantly as is happening the fast urbanizing Male. We are no more a homogenous Maldivian society living in the comfort of familiar surroundings but one subject to the daily influx of change. People, traffic, terrain, all subject to changes that we need getting adjusted to. But the social dimension of inter-personal space and how we protect and value this is not something enforceable through edict. It has to be a constant prodding towards incremental improvements by the inputs from family, schools and community leaders – political, religious and business. We all want a society that is caring and sharing. Perhaps we have forgotten-- in this get-rich-quick-by-any-means global culture -- that every good thing is got with some toil, some hardship, some endurance of a temporary burden. And this ultimate prize of a life context where we can bring up our children as such to be caring citizens of the future depends on the degree of effort we put in. As the law of thermodynamics says: everything goes to entropy. Chaos thus is the least energy state and so being uncaring than caring, throwing trash anywhere we want than disposing it in a bin kept for that purpose, burning mixed garbage, than separating and composting, or being selfish rather than being kind and helpful are such social examples of things going to entropy.

But that is exactly why we have governments and social structures to help us put that positive energy by ways of resources and resourcefulness to curb such degrading behavior so that we don’t regress to ways that are unbefitting to civilized behavior. What does development mean ultimately? This is a very basic question we all must ask ourselves as we seek a caring and cohesive social future. Will big buildings and other imposing physical edifices make us developed? This materialistic paradigm has shown that civilizations fall as the edifices of these outside forms loom to the sky because the edifices of our soul congruently fall to the lowest of depths. Yes, ultimately, what gets us to Jannah is our good deed we impart to our fellow brothers and sisters and to Allah’s creation as a whole, not through the numbers of or heights of the towers we build. Our society can be a sustainably happy entity only when we nurture the future generation with love and compassion and some hardship that goes to build character. When parents and teachers and community leaders show the strength of their morality in the practice of good leadership to make these ends happen.

August 8, 2015

Two great words that melt the heart

A community is judged for its compassion by the value it gives to inter-personal respect. And no two words or phrases signify this better than "please" and "thank you". Both indicate a valuing by us of the other human being as someone who deserves our respect. When this is not voiced it shows a lack of consideration to the other person.

Sadly again I have to bring up this lack in the burgeoning societies in the world, and that includes our beloved Maldives too. Alas, this paradise is sadly devoid of this display of mutual self-respect. Many a time when I walk into a shop and pay for the goods I purchase, the young person at the check-out counter almost never reciprocates appreciation. A smile or a “thank you” seem distant thoughts as they direct the attention at the next customer even as the change is dropped into the customer’s hand. There is not a thank you in lieu or even a smile. This visit leaves me with feeling that by my visit was just a favour I had done to them rather than they being grateful for my patronage. That word grateful may seem a bit harsh to several readers in the new-age think, for why should they be grateful for what we buy? After all it was an exchange and benefit to both sides; the customer paid for it and the shop dispensed it. It was a fair deal, says their ego. The soul within, meanwhile, doesn't want to battle with his body because it wants peace at whatever cost, and lets the internal argument rest. In the final scheme of things in this Dhunya, the ego wins most of the time because the ego’s prodding and enticement to be as disruptive to the soul is its mandate and so this factor is plugged into the covert test we are all subject to in this world of form.

But all who have dealt with these golden words or phrases know the advantage we have to move closer to the person we interact with. Here our soul wins. But for these to be articulated with finesse and abandon, one needs to remove much of the pride we harbor in our hearts and let in humility as our driving force. Yes, these words are precious and yet we keep them out of our daily lexicon depriving ourselves of the compound benefits of spiritual elevation we receive here and now, and for so much more in the Hereafter.

It's not only at the curb-side shops and department stores, but at airlines offices, government front office counters, doctor’s clinics and hospitals. This spectacle is played out daily, continuously.
Perhaps we have gone too long a stint without much priority to value-education rather than information-banking in our schools and parents too, in their eagerness to make the most of this world, struggle and not too infrequently by immoral means, to amass the wealth we can't use; unaware of the observant presence of our kids who imbibe every bit of this immorality that will stud their life character too. This, even when we know that at long last we can't have any more than just the footprint of our final slumber in a few cubic feet of ground.

A ubiquity of "Please" and "Thank-you" in our society in our daily life interactions with everyone we meet, can begin a revival of lost values. With the mutual self-respect these beget, we can do wonders to society to bring to bind the common culture that is the essence of our homogeneity, or as others may want to call it, unity in our diversity. Used frequently at home, in schools, at the playground and at the workplace, these two words will etch in the formative minds of our children and youth, the truth of our oneness and bring forth the compassion and the trust that will make society prosperous yet humble.

July 13, 2015

Walking precariously

Yesterday, as I walked along Male's cluttered pavement as I usually do every day and as usual having to snake my way around curb-parked motor-cycles and idle youth parked on these chatting with other idle friends and puffing on that ubiquitous cigarette all along my pathway, a good young soul who may have noticed my anxiety searching for a foothold on the curb along my way, looked at me and pointed his finger ahead as if to show me the easy way. "There is an open space over there" he called to me, showing me the entrance to the STO showroom. I thanked him, even though STO was not my destination today; I was just attempting to get to the other curb. 

Actually it dawned on me at that moment that perhaps many young people now don't even know that these pavements are for walking. This new generation, because of the easy access to the motor-cycle and so never having to do any walking except inside buildings and to and from these edifices to their motor-cycles, have forgotten that legs were given for walking; and so why should there be pavements for walking when there are motor bikes and cars to travel in - even from one city block to the other in this "big" city called Male? I knew that this young man was indeed trying to help in all good stead but what I wanted was to find some space to cross from one street-curb to the other to continue walking unimpeded.

But unimpeded cannot be a word used for Male streets! If there is any thing that is certain on Male's streets, it's the string of on-the-way obstacles a pedestrian has to overcome. The pot holes from removed cement pavement blocks that have not been replaced, their un-evenness that makes for not too infrequent results in crushed toes or twisted ankles of the cursory walker, the unending line of parked motor cycles that will put any bike show-room to shame, the leaking gutters and air-conditioner effluent that pitter-patter on pedestrian heads, the encroaching shops that slowly but surely now begin to occupy enough of the pavement with fruits and vegetables and spices and hardware items that compels the wary pedestrian to tiptoe along this narrow swathe of space lest they step on the displayed items and get penalised for walking. 

These two-foot wide walk-paths and the iron-work railings at Male’s main street junctions are also the conversation and recreational space for expatriate labour who I sadly confess have no other place in this congested Male to park their rears when their daily chores are done. There the sit perched on the railings immersed in the joy of sipping an energy drink or smoking the ever present cigarette and chattering on their mobile phone, and of course shielding their carefree gaze behind pitch dark sunglasses, as they sit at their vantage.. Then there are the cigarette smokers - I would wager this to be every other young person in Male; oh what a ball the cigarette companies must be having deceiving a whole nation!  - They wield their lit-up cancer sticks between the fingers of their wildly swaying hands and puff away as they swagger along Male's narrow pathways spilling a dose of their second-hand smoke to everyone else along the way, confidently oblivious of what fire or health hazard they might cause to the humble walker who they unfortunately don't even notice in their youthful pumped up egotistic state.

Then emerge too out of nowhere the longer-haired bikers who never seem to have a speed limit to care about making the humble walker cower for dear life each time one of these race by. Each moment seems one of grateful survival and thus a moment to thank Allah for allowing yet another chance at life. Among this lot are also the show-offs who imagine the narrow labyrinthine web of Male streets to be a formula-one race-track. Their skilled swerving and wriggling between pedestrians and fellow traffic and their expert avoidance of speed bumps and uneven spots on the undulating surface of Male streets that has languished un-repaired now for perhaps the past 40 years or so is a sight that strike terror into the heart of the wary walker.

Then there are the oglers who many a time run into the wary walker. These people stare at everything except the path ahead.  We are often told to look where we are going. Not so on Male streets. Eyes are always on things other than the street ahead. Pedestrians ogle at shop windows and many other attractive things that pass by, including the daily demonstrations and attendant oratory expertise that is a skill that by now Maldivians excel by far in comparison with other nations. Strangely however, the evening news has never reported a case of anyone running into a lamp-post or fatally onto the path of a reckless dark-shaded speedster. Even if there were, my take would be that such events just don't qualify to be news.

Then there are the fearless bikers who also magically check their facebook and shoot text messages while still driving. Then there are the dark-sunglass donned parents who race along with their sunglass-donning toddlers and don't mind these kids being exposed to the risks posed  by the unleaded fumes accumulating in the throng of vehicles that is the new norm of traffic behaviour on Male streets, which has become the concourse for at least 60000 motor-cycles - and counting, given that now it is not just Sheesha that is hogging the bike market any longer.

Then there are the spitters. Locals and expat labour all spit as if to an unending orchestra. Once upon a time, an occasional spitter would carefully deliver the blob into the side drain. Not so now; it is directed all over - front, right and left. These then rub off on to soles of shoes which carry the morbidity these harbour into the homes and onto the hands of babies and toddlers and children who spend much time on their hands and feet in contact with the seemingly clean tiled floors but now  continuously infected with these invisible stuff. As for the walker, those who may be so unfortunate as to be going up-wind behind a spitter, is directed to be especially cautious of the spray that can be the sad result when an episode of spitting occurs. When cautioned to please be careful when spitting upwind, they look at you strangely or just give a blank look; … no there are some who attempt to apologise also.

Yet for all this, I walk, because I know walking is the best way to go through life in good health. Yes, even with all the obstacles on Males streets, perhaps it is still worth it. But I would surely plead for an improvement in our civic state, and wish our degrading social condition be given even a tenth of the attention our economics is being given by the powers that be. 

You see, ultimately, what we carry away with us on the second leg of our cosmic journey is not the economic gains we accumulate in this worldly sojourn; it's the social gain. The goodness we create in this world for our brothers and sisters at large. That is the thing Allah will look at when we are measured for our THAQWA, --- the goodness of character that is the ultimate measure of success in this world and the hereafter.

Now that the Blessed month of Ramzaan is almost over, let me wish you all a very happy Eid-ul-Fitr; Eid Mubaarak to you all!

July 4, 2015

Toxic cloud

Ominously it approaches Male from the west now that the monsoon winds have changed that way. 

Thilafushi in Maldives is an environmental disaster in itself. The fumes from Thilafushi’s open burning of Male’s daily stock of garbage produces a hideous mix of toxic gases that rise in a visible plume 24 hours of the day and spreads it’s poison all around – the Galu-Falhu on its west and Villingili island to the east. A cocktail of mixed refuse is transported and dumped into this little shallow lagoon called Thilafalhu just a crow’s flight to the west of Male. For the past 40 years or so this shallow spot in the lagoon has been the sea-fill for all of Male’s municipal litter. Now with all this filth buried into its bowels, this shallow has been transformed into ‘Thilafushi’ – an island, by now of veritable size, containing warehouses, oil depots, office buildings, and most notably of all, the garbage dump of Male City, our little Capital. Daily, tons of this unsorted municipal waste of 130000 people is transported in huge barges to this spot in the serene turquoise waters of this island paradise. But the scene on Thilafushi is far from that of a paradise; it’s the stark opposite.  

On these days of soothing westerly zephyrs the ominous haze quickly floats the one mile or so distance and envelopes Male in an invisible ambience only noticeable by the unusual stench that pervades Male on and off ever so infrequently. Perhaps it’s nothing to worry about some say. Just imagine the thousands of chemicals inhaled wilfully and directly by perhaps a clear 50 percent of Male’s inhabitants who sport cigarettes dangling from their lips. So why worry of the occasional wafts from Thilafushi? The difference of course is that this is an environmental outcome affecting not just those unconcerned about their health as the smokers are, but those who are concerned and yet can do nothing about it except to curse the approaching plume.  

One can now add to this the ballooning condition of air pollution in Male city where motor vehicle traffic now abounds to throttling proportions and the resulting jams are the norm that forces both riders and pedestrians to continuously inhale mega doses of unleaded petrol fumes.

The Health Ministry’s marking of the world no-tobacco day also happened in a day of frenzy and then its message died with a whimper. The smokers continue to puff away like chimneys relishing the cheap prices the cigarette companies levy and irresponsible government policies allow. Yes, in not knowing or being oblivious to these prevailing facts, Maldives maybe bracing for a non-communicable diseases epidemic of epic proportions not too far down in the future.

When will our policy makers do something about the open dumping and burning on Thilafushi? Surely, the city council or the housing ministry – as the case maybe – can devise a garbage-segregation at the house-hold level policy that can solve this issue of open burning of plastics at Thilafushi? Male will then have a true windfall of a ‘cleaner’ plume from Thilafushi, even if nothing else is done. But of course the culprit of the dioxins must be collected and put to recycling.  I am sure we can take a page from what the tourist resorts are doing about this. And of course, in a country that is so effete in its soil-content, but where many are into vegetable farming and now also foraying into the pleasures of home-gardening, could we not make gold from garbage by commercially composting this one third or so of collected garbage? We will create jobs and reduce our import of biodiversity-damaging compost from outside our shores. For the know-how on composting, there are sprouting local examples also. But given our aversion to listening to home-grown solutions, I guess “a prophet is never heard in his own country” adage applies too well here. Alas, for us it has always been alien solutions that seem to attract us!  

And that goes for our other habits also. As such, in regards to our second case here, when will we as a public wake up to the tricks of the cigarette companies to keep us who are in poorer countries hooked and clearly directed towards the disease and slow death these products augur?

June 18, 2015

Ramzaan Mubaarak!

Dear Readers,

It's that time of the year to replenish our dipping spirituality. The next thirty days can be the beginning of another refreshing chapter in your lives. This is the holy month during which the first revelation came to our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in that lonely cave on Mount Hira. This was the beginning of a transformation of the human race with the injunction that to "read" was the basis of life. To learn and to know and to put into practice the good ways we are supposed to live and create and recreate the future for posterity.

The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is the Blessing Allah sent to all humanity -- not just to any one Nation as the others of this celebrated ilk were. He brought us the message of Mercy from Allah (SWA), and together through The Messenger's superlative example, showed us how to be the best among the best. How to tread the path to Jannah.

So, this Ramazaan is yet again the chance for us to reflect on the Mercy and Compassion of Allah (SWA) and imbibe the tremendous gift we have in our Holy book the Quraan. It is a solution for all times and for ills -- the absolute recipe for the trials of humanity. It is a month when the dark forces of evil are in retreat by the will of Allah (SWA), and so an opportunity for us to work on the good with the least of resistance -- itself a Mercy from the Almighty.

May you all have a Blessed Ramzaan and happy life!

Abdul Sattar

May 31, 2015

World no-tobacco day: lets throw away that stick!

Today is world no tobacco day. All over the world this day is marked to flag the insidious danger of smoking to the human body. So that we will take heed.

It is a curious anomaly that our body – the thing that we so consider as the most important things for us to preserve, or show off – is at the receiving end of such a noxious thing as the smoke from our cigarettes.

Scientific studies testify unequivocally that cigarette some contains thousands of poisonous chemicals that can cause an array of bodily harm. In fact a former Director General of the World Health Organization once famously said that the cigarette is the only product in the market when used exactly as is suppose tot, will make you sick or kill you.  Thus one wonders why we and our government just allow these killers in packets, to move so freely in our midst. We seem to condone such killings just because it is not a gun, machete, bomb or knife that doing the killing. But surely wen we know something wrong we need to prohibit it with all he strength of our being. Why do we talk so against pesticides and industrial chemical such as the organo-phosphates and the carbamates, and the so called dirty-dozen of chemicals that we ban internationally with trans-boundary agreements and the like, that seem to show inordinate global concern for human life.

The Bhopal Union Carbide factory fiasco of decades ago is still told even to grandchildren in India and in classrooms and lecture halls, and so are stories of mutation of human fetuses due to dangerous chemicals in food production and in pharmaceuticals. But the chemicals we inhale daily in our cigarette smoke - the ammonia, acetone, benzene, hydrogen cyanide, etc. -  is quietly hushed up by politicians and business houses as inconsequential to health. Instead, we spend billions to build hospitals and other edifices, both physical and social, to treat the end-of-the-line diseases that are the  result of these inhalations and ingestions. Globally, at least 1200 people die everyday from the consequences of cigarette smoking. It's like three jumbo-jets crashing everyday with none surviving. Yes, sadly, by discounting the seriousness of the cigarette smoke both first-hand and second-hand, we give a blind eye to a primary cause that land many of us in hospital or grave in the first place.

To many who may not be aware, it would be shocking to know that cigarette smoke does not only cause lung cancer but is the cause of many other health risks. You may like to visit Google or the WHO website for further awareness that can save you still. So why do we have this killer in the loose? Why are big shops with only disingenuous posturing of human concern allowed to operate and make money off hapless citizens putting their future health in jeopardy? The answer must be our greed for making a buck even at the expense of the health of our youth. This indeed is criminal – especially in this age of the internet and awareness. We cannot allow such a danger to be left unattended when we in the name of development, tinkle around with projects that only give us short term benefits. Perhaps that is the politics of having only a short term vision called the myopia of politics.

As one who has advocated cigarette smoking cessation in all of my professional years I feel that the biggest impediment to keep such killers on the loose is the easy public access and availability of this killer to the public and the sad and deep lack of our awareness of its stealthy tactics to our body.
I know that our young people - even with the throbbing hormonal changes buzzing in their bodies – will have the sense to know right from wrong. So it is not just the hedonism of youth but our Nation’s feeble laws and enforcement that allow these white long criminal sticks to function with impunity that must urgently be brought to justice.

Then there are the tobacco producing business giants who spend billions of dollars on advertising the glamour of smoking either overtly of covertly, subtly or brazenly, that entice our hormone-confused youth. But awareness and enforcement has given great dividends to the West who have effectively reduced their cigarette consumption in huge amounts. Smoking in the street, in public places, and even in restaurants and at sports events and the like is not booked any more in these ‘developed’ countries. And so this loss by the cigarette companies is patched up by the irresponsible governance and foolish youth of developing countries. Little do we realize that these companies are taking us natives of their previous colonies for a ride. Our hard earned money and our lungs are burned up to make them rich. Do we see that foolishness we are trapped in? We need to wake up. It’s not an emulation of the West to be smoking when they have stopped. Yes, no one in their right mind will like to be fooled over and over again. When we are cheated for a few Rufiyaa in a retail shop we are upset, but when these Companies cheat us with our health on a continuing basis, we just inhale the toxin in oblivious bliss time and time again imagining that we are just cool and admirable.

Youth of today must wake up. Please be conscious of your bodies in all respects – not just only with clothes, hairdos and colognes. Just like any physical thing, your body too withers with time and you don’t have to make that process any faster by the inhalation of these toxic fumes just because in this youthful moment in your live, you feel invincible. Just wait for another decade or two, your whole being will cry in the regret of what you do today.

I wish you well for the future and advise you to urgently crush that packet of killers that you carry in your pocket with such love and passion, with the realization that this is just your ego’s deceptiveness egging you towards your destruction.  For that magnanimous act of crushing that cigarette packet, your body will thank you forever.  Pumping iron at the gym only gives you a physical shell of your outer body that you hope to show off, but sadly an inside that is festering ever so slowly but surely.
Mark these my words my dear youth of Maldives: what I write here is not empty words, but truths that are backed by scientific research coming from the scientific intelligence of the very part of the world that you all so attempt to emulate.  So please take wise steps right away to prevent a life of regret for yourself.

Our body says: if you look after me for the first 40 years, I will look after you for the next 50 years. 

May 30, 2015

Solid walls

Solid walls often don't give way! But yes, an earthquake is another story. 

In Maldives, our day is consumed by the political impasse we face. As in the few Friday prayers past, we are all hoping earnestly and beseeching the Creator of hope for a solution to our national quagmire.

To be able to make a difference there has to a difference in our thinking. As the famous saying goes, those who created the problems cannot be asked to solve the problems they created. This squarely relates to our Maldivian political situation. Everyone seems to be aligned with one party or another. This must be the only country in the world where the public is most politically engaged. (a recent study also attested to this). This is good and it can also be bad for there is no middle thinking for eking out compromises. Another issue also concerns the nature of our parties. We all know these are really not parties but groups of hopefuls (for whatever purpose) aligned behind human beings who they seem to revere. Some call such grouping cults, others call them gangs, and yet others may call them alliances - yet all for some nefarious end. True parties have ideals that signal the basic life needs of society. And in the situation of cults and gangs our mind is swept away primarily, and many a time even absolutely by the allure of the leading personality, leaving the real issues of the everyday citizen behind as secondary. The grapple for the pole position seems the primary goal -- and that has to be filled by these luminous personalities. Thus our egos become hugely involved in this process of following the leader in subservience  (and we call this democracy?!). And as we all know, our ego never wants to lose. So it whispers to us to keep on staunchly aligned with these big personalities, for it is the only way our egos survive.

Only when we can become aware of this decadent and regressive binding force our own egos dictate on us, can we become liberated enough to think independently of the real issues that plague our nation. Until such time it will be just a tug o-war that the stronger in stinging words or in so-called legitimized authority will win. Rationality and deserving will be neatly kept out of this process.

We need a coalition of those who are not aligned to these individuals for real forward movement to happen, even though it may now seem an impossibility. National flag carrying in the nightly demonstrations signal some such leaning towards cohesion, but the underlying party dominance cannot be easily allayed --especially in the face of the vituperous rhetoric that is released. What many may still believe however is that there is something about calmness and humility and silence that moves the heart. And there is an absence of this in our midst. Newton's law is inherent here. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. A truly non-aligned coalition is the change of mindset our nation needs. Remember it's our mind that is the cause of our joy, sorrows, hardships and agonies, and so follows our envy anger and jealousy.

And yes, we have hope. We have the tools with us to make this change but we need to align our will to want to use those tools. They are right at our doorstep, but as it is said, we don't see the diamond under our feet but search for it elsewhere first. Yet finally we always come back to our origin. And so must also our nation come back to our roots. No one away from our shores can be the solver of our problems.

We need to get out from behind our dark sunglasses where our egos want us to hide and allow ourselves to peer into the soul of our brother and come to terms. There only the solution lies. We need to let some warmth and softness prevail even against the seeming odds of adversity. Lessons from our Prophet will energize and inspire us (if only we care to look there) to know that with great power is also the necessity to exercise restraint, humility and dialogue.

Solid walls have a way of not giving way. 

March 15, 2015

Building bridges

The political upheaval our Nation of Maldives has gone through now for the past month or so is unprecedented. The shocking court ruling on Raees Mohamed Nasheed to a 13 year jail sentence is indeed a staggering moment in our political life; a devastating blow to our Nation as yet tottering on the road to democracy. To many this has been a harrowing period of national anxiety over the future of an intensely popular political icon. The rampant opinions of a political framing culminating in the decision of a corrupt judiciary are just too loud and seem only too blatant.

The short march of our multi-party democracy has indeed torn our nation apart. What began as a hopeful introduction has deteriorated into chaos and resentment on both sides that will surely scar our nation for generations to come. Sadly there seems no constituency on a middle path that will see or hear out the mutual decadence that is going on. The argument that this is the teething problems on the path of democracy is but an excuse to gain time to fleece national wealth. Political coteries - AKA political parties- with a train of hangers-on have no clear issue agendas except the singular hope of ascension to power that seem to justify sacrificing even the life of a national icon just to have the chance to fatten on the booty. It is sad that at this early stage in a small 100 per cent Muslim nation such as ours, we witness such greed and resentment, just for the sake of winning the glitter of this world.

Yes, this is the governance of today driven by the politics of money and greed. Democracy and a new Constitution touted as means of promoting social harmony through the separation of powers that is to work against the inherent human desire to dominate is not elevating us to our soul, but dragging us deep into our ego. Yet we say that Islam reigns above this Constitution. So where are the beautiful lessons we glean from our Quran and Ahaadees?

In a democracy too there are processes established to follow a due process. When selfishness and gain take precedence over the common good that politicians are there to uphold, chaos will be king. As a faithful and well-meaning citizen of this country, I beseech those in power to be true Islamic democratic leaders -- those that have deep and exemplary Eman and patience as the critical ingredients that make them tick.

On the more mundane level, while we plan to build bridges that will connect islands, let’s also plan to build the more important network of bridges to our hearts.

January 21, 2015

Dream merchants

Given the happenings of the past few months, I cry for the state of our nation! Being an islander myself (not a Male born) I feel the grief of many who seem shunted out of this process called democracy and its fancy underpinnings we have inherited from those who created this process far away from our shores, and yet seem to have espoused even before we could even articulate the word  “democracy” as it should.

Sadly, given our level of understanding, for the island voter who has not been involved in the nefarious world of politics, the direction of his vote will be to the one who will not jeopardize his state of presently enjoyed status of life. For him it is the availability of his daily food rations, the sale of his fish for a good rate and the availability of fuel for his fishing dhoani. Perhaps now it is also the access to schooling for his kids and the hospital for getting treated for his health ailments; now we can also throw in the mobile phone and the flat TV.

Beyond this, the murky world of politics that engages with the exchange of lucrative deals in expensive mega contracts, corruption in the dispensation of jobs and promotions and attendant financial and related benefits and how lofty political positions are used to maintain power and authority lie the serene world of the other islands. Social nattering on these deals in the past were no more than hushed conversation pieces to pep up an otherwise balmy existence. Even now in the new bustling era of democracy, hyped up rhetoric and social unrest has not made the issues any more owned by us in the islands. Still these seem of no immediate concern to them because they are firstly unaware of this nefarious world and also disengaged from the understanding of the consequences of such actions and behaviours that for them lies far away from their everyday lives. They (most of them) are still too innocent to fathom the depth of such intricacies. In this absence of awareness, the political game is being played and winners and losers decided based on base compromises and arm twists. The island voter is given what he wants to fuel his everyday needs without exhorting one bit to his need to nurture the compassionate society of tomorrow that his children and grandchildren will have to inhabit. 

So how can the ordinary man on the island’s joalifathi be the steward of this profound concept called democracy? Given that there is no overt public education on democracy in Maldives, our beloved country either before or after the 2008 democratic transition says a lot about the effete nature of our system and the independent commissions that are mandated for this job. Neither are the Parties doing any responsible role in doing this but rather squabbling in the politics of this game with only occasional morsels thrown out to pacify the crying needs around, or the peddling of dreams that the polity seems to swallow in their political innocence. How long do we want to keep the polity in this ignorance and expect this moral decadence that our society is slipping into to be stalled? All well-meaning citizens of Maldives must take up the challenge; democracy will be made or broken only us – We the People.

January 2, 2015

New Year Resolution

Happy New Year to everyone!

Another new year and more resolutions to be made to make our world a better place! The global geo-political turmoil and the skirmishes of the smaller kinds in our own nations keep us guessing as to what positive omens this new-year will portend. We all want peace and harmony even as we tussle with the negative elements that seem to get the better of us most times.  

A couple of days ago I was invited to a radio talk show in Maldives on “the role of the individual in bringing harmony to a nation”. As I have repeatedly shared thoughts on this topic in various ways through “Rukkuri’ blog, I was more than delighted to share these thoughts on national radio too. As usual, the time available to such programs is always too short to probe the true depth of the minefield of such issues that plague our nation. Yes, disharmony can well be the AKA for our country at this juncture, and thus we need this discussion. To my friend and I in this exchange representing the “Panel for National Harmony”, this topic begins and ends with the individual citizen and about our disposition to always blame the other person for our ill fate. It seems that we never look at ourselves as the perpetrator of our ills. Many who don’t want to look deep into the genesis of human discontentment may not want to accept this at first, but our hope was that when each one of us takes the time to truly analyse the source of our resentment that fuels our divided society, the solution would become clear. I perceived this sense of general resentment from the comments of those that called in while the program was going on. This was a dial-in show and there were two or three callers who did not have questions but comments that seem to lay blame than point to queries or clarifications on what we were discussing. I presume that there are many who may have had genuine questions, but those who have the courage to call and ask are few and those that did yesterday all seemed to have some frustration with the way our public condition is governed. The irritable issue for them was about insensitive public leaders who don’t care about the public’s interests. It was the concern about our Male streets thronged with guest labourers who have no regard for our age-old local Maldivian culture of cleanliness and respectfulness, the streets and sidewalks that were being increasingly spitted on, littered and derelict. Who is to blame but the public officials and those who we have to uphold law and order – those in uniform and those meting out justice in their grand edifices?

Yes, all these are the more proximate determinants of the social decay we see amid our burgeoning materialism -- plush vehicles on our uneven road surfaces, fast motorcyclists that care little about pedestrian safety, and multi-storeyed buildings that crowd every bit of open space in Male. But the real issue we both noted was the irresponsibility we seem to have acquired within ourselves and now don’t see or don’t want to see that society is built on our collective views complementing that of each one of us individuals. We elect our leaders with our own free will in democracy, we crowd this little square mile of space with these over-sized vehicles, litter the streets with impunity, and fill our workplaces with guest labor because our young people have not been nurtured into appreciating the dignity of labor. 

Two generations of the budding nuclear family have destroyed the character-nurturing context and space of the extended family that has shut the child from the supportive presence of grandparents, schools given way to teaching children only to bank information and pass exams, parents who felt that English education was enough to land a child into successful adulthood without any value education, politicians showing that the model of temporary flattery and availability during election time is adequate to convince voters to get the numbers to win, and do as they please from then on, and employers who don’t care about hiring locally with the excuse that Maldivians are too capricious to their liking; no wonder our wobbly sidewalks, any railinged curb-sites, or park benches at any given time of the day or night are all occupied by the bodies and footsteps of the guest workers. 

Soon they will outnumber us. In one way it is a harbinger of a subservient future we may have to face as a nation that is reminiscent of the parable of the Tortoise and the Hare. Are we to slumber in national self-importance and arrogance until another people take us over? That seems to be what our good book also says – paraphrased: until we attempt to change our plight, God doesn’t do it for us. We can change only when we become aware that the power to change is within us and not with those we point fingers at. Let's begin the struggle to change ourselves!