Monday, December 10, 2012

The Island Peak Expedition for Education

Dear Friend,

In May 2013, I will be nuts enough to take part in a 22 days expedition that will hopefully transform the lives of many including mine. I will climb Island Peak, one of the satellite peaks of Mount Everest, summiting at 6189 meters (20.305 ft.).
The expedition is part of a huge fundraising effort that is driven by the aim of enhancing the educational prospects of many youngsters and ultimately leading to improvements in the living standards of the whole community of Jhumlawang village.

The Island Peak Climbing Charity Challenge was inspired by hard-working men and women who decided to take charge of their lives and mobilize their community in order to cater for the very basic needs of all members of the village as well as future generations. The aim of the challenge is to raise a sufficient amount of money to cover the core costs of two scholarships that will be awarded to two young graduates of the village to complete 3 years courses in Animal Science and Plant Science in Kathmandu.

Additionally, further funds generated by the expedition will go towards the joint Primary School Extension Project of JVF-Nepal, Help Us Learn and our partner organisations.

Best wishes,

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Love is a Fallacy

by Max Shulman

Cool was I and logical. Keen, calculating, perspicacious, acute and astute—I was all of these. My brain was as powerful as a dynamo, precise as a chemist’s scales, as penetrating as a scalpel. And—think of it!—I only eighteen.
It is not often that one so young has such a giant intellect. Take, for example, Petey Bellows, my roommate at the university. Same age, same background, but dumb as an ox. A nice enough fellow, you understand, but nothing upstairs. Emotional type. Unstable. Impressionable. Worst of all, a faddist. Fads, I submit, are the very negation of reason. To be swept up in every new craze that comes along, to surrender oneself to idiocy just because everybody else is doing it—this, to me, is the acme of mindlessness. Not, however, to Petey.
One afternoon I found Petey lying on his bed with an expression of such distress on his face that I immediately diagnosed appendicitis. “Don’t move,” I said, “Don’t take a laxative. I’ll get a doctor.”
“Raccoon,” he mumbled thickly.
“Raccoon?” I said, pausing in my flight.
“I want a raccoon coat,” he wailed.
I perceived that his trouble was not physical, but mental. “Why do you want a raccoon coat?”
“I should have known it,” he cried, pounding his temples. “I should have known they’d come back when the Charleston came back. Like a fool I spent all my money for textbooks, and now I can’t get a raccoon coat.”
“Can you mean,” I said incredulously, “that people are actually wearing raccoon coats again?”
“All the Big Men on Campus are wearing them. Where’ve you been?”
“In the library,” I said, naming a place not frequented by Big Men on Campus.
He leaped from the bed and paced the room. “I’ve got to have a raccoon coat,” he said passionately. “I’ve got to!”
“Petey, why? Look at it rationally. Raccoon coats are unsanitary. They shed. They smell bad. They weigh too much. They’re unsightly. They—”
“You don’t understand,” he interrupted impatiently. “It’s the thing to do. Don’t you want to be in the swim?”
“No,” I said truthfully.
“Well, I do,” he declared. “I’d give anything for a raccoon coat. Anything!”
My brain, that precision instrument, slipped into high gear. “Anything?” I asked, looking at him narrowly.
“Anything,” he affirmed in ringing tones.
I stroked my chin thoughtfully. It so happened that I knew where to get my hands on a raccoon coat. My father had had one in his undergraduate days; it lay now in a trunk in the attic back home. It also happened that Petey had something I wanted. He didn’t have it exactly, but at least he had first rights on it. I refer to his girl, Polly Espy.
I had long coveted Polly Espy. Let me emphasize that my desire for this young woman was not emotional in nature. She was, to be sure, a girl who excited the emotions, but I was not one to let my heart rule my head. I wanted Polly for a shrewdly calculated, entirely cerebral reason.
I was a freshman in law school. In a few years I would be out in practice. I was well aware of the importance of the right kind of wife in furthering a lawyer’s career. The successful lawyers I had observed were, almost without exception, married to beautiful, gracious, intelligent women. With one omission, Polly fitted these specifications perfectly.
Beautiful she was. She was not yet of pin-up proportions, but I felt that time would supply the lack. She already had the makings.
Gracious she was. By gracious I mean full of graces. She had an erectness of carriage, an ease of bearing, a poise that clearly indicated the best of breeding. At table her manners were exquisite. I had seen her at the Kozy Kampus Korner eating the specialty of the house—a sandwich that contained scraps of pot roast, gravy, chopped nuts, and a dipper of sauerkraut—without even getting her fingers moist.
Intelligent she was not. In fact, she veered in the opposite direction. But I believed that under my guidance she would smarten up. At any rate, it was worth a try. It is, after all, easier to make a beautiful dumb girl smart than to make an ugly smart girl beautiful.
“Petey,” I said, “are you in love with Polly Espy?”
“I think she’s a keen kid,” he replied, “but I don’t know if you’d call it love. Why?”
“Do you,” I asked, “have any kind of formal arrangement with her? I mean are you going steady or anything like that?”
“No. We see each other quite a bit, but we both have other dates. Why?”
“Is there,” I asked, “any other man for whom she has a particular fondness?”
“Not that I know of. Why?”
I nodded with satisfaction. “In other words, if you were out of the picture, the field would be open. Is that right?”
“I guess so. What are you getting at?”
“Nothing , nothing,” I said innocently, and took my suitcase out the closet.
“Where are you going?” asked Petey.
“Home for weekend.” I threw a few things into the bag.
“Listen,” he said, clutching my arm eagerly, “while you’re home, you couldn’t get some money from your old man, could you, and lend it to me so I can buy a raccoon coat?”
“I may do better than that,” I said with a mysterious wink and closed my bag and left.


“Look,” I said to Petey when I got back Monday morning. I threw open the suitcase and revealed the huge, hairy, gamy object that my father had worn in his Stutz Bearcat in 1925.
“Holy Toledo!” said Petey reverently. He plunged his hands into the raccoon coat and then his face. “Holy Toledo!” he repeated fifteen or twenty times.
“Would you like it?” I asked.
“Oh yes!” he cried, clutching the greasy pelt to him. Then a canny look came into his eyes. “What do you want for it?”
“Your girl.” I said, mincing no words.
“Polly?” he said in a horrified whisper. “You want Polly?”
“That’s right.”
He flung the coat from him. “Never,” he said stoutly.
I shrugged. “Okay. If you don’t want to be in the swim, I guess it’s your business.”
I sat down in a chair and pretended to read a book, but out of the corner of my eye I kept watching Petey. He was a torn man. First he looked at the coat with the expression of a waif at a bakery window. Then he turned away and set his jaw resolutely. Then he looked back at the coat, with even more longing in his face. Then he turned away, but with not so much resolution this time. Back and forth his head swiveled, desire waxing, resolution waning. Finally he didn’t turn away at all; he just stood and stared with mad lust at the coat.
“It isn’t as though I was in love with Polly,” he said thickly. “Or going steady or anything like that.”
“That’s right,” I murmured.
“What’s Polly to me, or me to Polly?”
“Not a thing,” said I.
“It’s just been a casual kick—just a few laughs, that’s all.”
“Try on the coat,” said I.
He complied. The coat bunched high over his ears and dropped all the way down to his shoe tops. He looked like a mound of dead raccoons. “Fits fine,” he said happily.
I rose from my chair. “Is it a deal?” I asked, extending my hand.
He swallowed. “It’s a deal,” he said and shook my hand.

I had my first date with Polly the following evening. This was in the nature of a survey; I wanted to find out just how much work I had to do to get her mind up to the standard I required. I took her first to dinner. “Gee, that was a delish dinner,” she said as we left the restaurant. Then I took her to a movie. “Gee, that was a marvy movie,” she said as we left the theatre. And then I took her home. “Gee, I had a sensaysh time,” she said as she bade me good night.
I went back to my room with a heavy heart. I had gravely underestimated the size of my task. This girl’s lack of information was terrifying. Nor would it be enough merely to supply her with information. First she had to be taught to think. This loomed as a project of no small dimensions, and at first I was tempted to give her back to Petey. But then I got to thinking about her abundant physical charms and about the way she entered a room and the way she handled a knife and fork, and I decided to make an effort.
I went about it, as in all things, systematically. I gave her a course in logic. It happened that I, as a law student, was taking a course in logic myself, so I had all the facts at my fingertips. “Poll’,” I said to her when I picked her up on our next date, “tonight we are going over to the Knoll and talk.”
“Oo, terrif,” she replied. One thing I will say for this girl: you would go far to find another so agreeable.
We went to the Knoll, the campus trysting place, and we sat down under an old oak, and she looked at me expectantly. “What are we going to talk about?” she asked.
She thought this over for a minute and decided she liked it. “Magnif,” she said.
“Logic,” I said, clearing my throat, “is the science of thinking. Before we can think correctly, we must first learn to recognize the common fallacies of logic. These we will take up tonight.”
“Wow-dow!” she cried, clapping her hands delightedly.
I winced, but went bravely on. “First let us examine the fallacy called Dicto Simpliciter.”
“By all means,” she urged, batting her lashes eagerly.
“Dicto Simpliciter means an argument based on an unqualified generalization. For example: Exercise is good. Therefore everybody should exercise.”
“I agree,” said Polly earnestly. “I mean exercise is wonderful. I mean it builds the body and everything.”
“Polly,” I said gently, “the argument is a fallacy. Exercise is good is an unqualified generalization. For instance, if you have heart disease, exercise is bad, not good. Many people are ordered by their doctors not to exercise. You must qualify the generalization. You must say exercise is usually good, or exercise is goodfor most people. Otherwise you have committed a Dicto Simpliciter. Do you see?”
“No,” she confessed. “But this is marvy. Do more! Do more!”
“It will be better if you stop tugging at my sleeve,” I told her, and when she desisted, I continued. “Next we take up a fallacy called Hasty Generalization. Listen carefully: You can’t speak French. Petey Bellows can’t speak French. I must therefore conclude that nobody at the University of Minnesota can speak French.”
“Really?” said Polly, amazed. “Nobody?
I hid my exasperation. “Polly, it’s a fallacy. The generalization is reached too hastily. There are too few instances to support such a conclusion.”
“Know any more fallacies?” she asked breathlessly. “This is more fun than dancing even.”
I fought off a wave of despair. I was getting nowhere with this girl, absolutely nowhere. Still, I am nothing if not persistent. I continued. “Next comes Post Hoc. Listen to this: Let’s not take Bill on our picnic. Every time we take him out with us, it rains.”
“I know somebody just like that,” she exclaimed. “A girl back home—Eula Becker, her name is. It never fails. Every single time we take her on a picnic—”
“Polly,” I said sharply, “it’s a fallacy. Eula Becker doesn’t cause the rain. She has no connection with the rain. You are guilty of Post Hoc if you blame Eula Becker.”
“I’ll never do it again,” she promised contritely. “Are you mad at me?”
I sighed. “No, Polly, I’m not mad.”
“Then tell me some more fallacies.”
“All right. Let’s try Contradictory Premises.”
“Yes, let’s,” she chirped, blinking her eyes happily.
I frowned, but plunged ahead. “Here’s an example of Contradictory Premises: If God can do anything, can He make a stone so heavy that He won’t be able to lift it?”
“Of course,” she replied promptly.
“But if He can do anything, He can lift the stone,” I pointed out.
“Yeah,” she said thoughtfully. “Well, then I guess He can’t make the stone.”
“But He can do anything,” I reminded her.
She scratched her pretty, empty head. “I’m all confused,” she admitted.
“Of course you are. Because when the premises of an argument contradict each other, there can be no argument. If there is an irresistible force, there can be no immovable object. If there is an immovable object, there can be no irresistible force. Get it?”
“Tell me more of this keen stuff,” she said eagerly.
I consulted my watch. “I think we’d better call it a night. I’ll take you home now, and you go over all the things you’ve learned. We’ll have another session tomorrow night.”
I deposited her at the girls’ dormitory, where she assured me that she had had a perfectly terrif evening, and I went glumly home to my room. Petey lay snoring in his bed, the raccoon coat huddled like a great hairy beast at his feet. For a moment I considered waking him and telling him that he could have his girl back. It seemed clear that my project was doomed to failure. The girl simply had a logic-proof head.
But then I reconsidered. I had wasted one evening; I might as well waste another. Who knew? Maybe somewhere in the extinct crater of her mind a few members still smoldered. Maybe somehow I could fan them into flame. Admittedly it was not a prospect fraught with hope, but I decided to give it one more try.

Seated under the oak the next evening I said, “Our first fallacy tonight is called Ad Misericordiam.”
She quivered with delight.
“Listen closely,” I said. “A man applies for a job. When the boss asks him what his qualifications are, he replies that he has a wife and six children at home, the wife is a helpless cripple, the children have nothing to eat, no clothes to wear, no shoes on their feet, there are no beds in the house, no coal in the cellar, and winter is coming.”
A tear rolled down each of Polly’s pink cheeks. “Oh, this is awful, awful,” she sobbed.
“Yes, it’s awful,” I agreed, “but it’s no argument. The man never answered the boss’s question about his qualifications. Instead he appealed to the boss’s sympathy. He committed the fallacy of Ad Misericordiam. Do you understand?”
“Have you got a handkerchief?” she blubbered.
I handed her a handkerchief and tried to keep from screaming while she wiped her eyes. “Next,” I said in a carefully controlled tone, “we will discuss False Analogy. Here is an example: Students should be allowed to look at their textbooks during examinations. After all, surgeons have X-rays to guide them during an operation, lawyers have briefs to guide them during a trial, carpenters have blueprints to guide them when they are building a house. Why, then, shouldn’t students be allowed to look at their textbooks during an examination?”
“There now,” she said enthusiastically, “is the most marvy idea I’ve heard in years.”
“Polly,” I said testily, “the argument is all wrong. Doctors, lawyers, and carpenters aren’t taking a test to see how much they have learned, but students are. The situations are altogether different, and you can’t make an analogy between them.”
“I still think it’s a good idea,” said Polly.
“Nuts,” I muttered. Doggedly I pressed on. “Next we’ll try Hypothesis Contrary to Fact.”
“Sounds yummy,” was Polly’s reaction.
“Listen: If Madame Curie had not happened to leave a photographic plate in a drawer with a chunk of pitchblende, the world today would not know about radium.”
“True, true,” said Polly, nodding her head “Did you see the movie? Oh, it just knocked me out. That Walter Pidgeon is so dreamy. I mean he fractures me.”
“If you can forget Mr. Pidgeon for a moment,” I said coldly, “I would like to point out that statement is a fallacy. Maybe Madame Curie would have discovered radium at some later date. Maybe somebody else would have discovered it. Maybe any number of things would have happened. You can’t start with a hypothesis that is not true and then draw any supportable conclusions from it.”
“They ought to put Walter Pidgeon in more pictures,” said Polly, “I hardly ever see him any more.”
One more chance, I decided. But just one more. There is a limit to what flesh and blood can bear. “The next fallacy is called Poisoning the Well.”
“How cute!” she gurgled.
“Two men are having a debate. The first one gets up and says, ‘My opponent is a notorious liar. You can’t believe a word that he is going to say.’ ... Now, Polly, think. Think hard. What’s wrong?”
I watched her closely as she knit her creamy brow in concentration. Suddenly a glimmer of intelligence—the first I had seen—came into her eyes. “It’s not fair,” she said with indignation. “It’s not a bit fair. What chance has the second man got if the first man calls him a liar before he even begins talking?”
“Right!” I cried exultantly. “One hundred per cent right. It’s not fair. The first man has poisoned the well before anybody could drink from it. He has hamstrung his opponent before he could even start ... Polly, I’m proud of you.”
“Pshaws,” she murmured, blushing with pleasure.
“You see, my dear, these things aren’t so hard. All you have to do is concentrate. Think—examine—evaluate. Come now, let’s review everything we have learned.”
“Fire away,” she said with an airy wave of her hand.
Heartened by the knowledge that Polly was not altogether a cretin, I began a long, patient review of all I had told her. Over and over and over again I cited instances, pointed out flaws, kept hammering away without letup. It was like digging a tunnel. At first, everything was work, sweat, and darkness. I had no idea when I would reach the light, or even if I would. But I persisted. I pounded and clawed and scraped, and finally I was rewarded. I saw a chink of light. And then the chink got bigger and the sun came pouring in and all was bright.
Five grueling nights with this took, but it was worth it. I had made a logician out of Polly; I had taught her to think. My job was done. She was worthy of me, at last. She was a fit wife for me, a proper hostess for my many mansions, a suitable mother for my well-heeled children.
It must not be thought that I was without love for this girl. Quite the contrary. Just as Pygmalion loved the perfect woman he had fashioned, so I loved mine. I decided to acquaint her with my feelings at our very next meeting. The time had come to change our relationship from academic to romantic.
“Polly,” I said when next we sat beneath our oak, “tonight we will not discuss fallacies.”
“Aw, gee,” she said, disappointed.
“My dear,” I said, favoring her with a smile, “we have now spent five evenings together. We have gotten along splendidly. It is clear that we are well matched.”
“Hasty Generalization,” said Polly brightly.
“I beg your pardon,” said I.
“Hasty Generalization,” she repeated. “How can you say that we are well matched on the basis of only five dates?”
I chuckled with amusement. The dear child had learned her lessons well. “My dear,” I said, patting her hand in a tolerant manner, “five dates is plenty. After all, you don’t have to eat a whole cake to know that it’s good.”
“False Analogy,” said Polly promptly. “I’m not a cake. I’m a girl.”
I chuckled with somewhat less amusement. The dear child had learned her lessons perhaps too well. I decided to change tactics. Obviously the best approach was a simple, strong, direct declaration of love. I paused for a moment while my massive brain chose the proper word. Then I began:
“Polly, I love you. You are the whole world to me, the moon and the stars and the constellations of outer space. Please, my darling, say that you will go steady with me, for if you will not, life will be meaningless. I will languish. I will refuse my meals. I will wander the face of the earth, a shambling, hollow-eyed hulk.”
There, I thought, folding my arms, that ought to do it.
“Ad Misericordiam,” said Polly.
I ground my teeth. I was not Pygmalion; I was Frankenstein, and my monster had me by the throat. Frantically I fought back the tide of panic surging through me; at all costs I had to keep cool.
“Well, Polly,” I said, forcing a smile, “you certainly have learned your fallacies.”
“You’re darn right,” she said with a vigorous nod.
“And who taught them to you, Polly?”
“You did.”
“That’s right. So you do owe me something, don’t you, my dear? If I hadn’t come along you never would have learned about fallacies.”
“Hypothesis Contrary to Fact,” she said instantly.
I dashed perspiration from my brow. “Polly,” I croaked, “you mustn’t take all these things so literally. I mean this is just classroom stuff. You know that the things you learn in school don’t have anything to do with life.”
“Dicto Simpliciter,” she said, wagging her finger at me playfully.
That did it. I leaped to my feet, bellowing like a bull. “Will you or will you not go steady with me?”
“I will not,” she replied.
“Why not?” I demanded.
“Because this afternoon I promised Petey Bellows that I would go steady with him.”
I reeled back, overcome with the infamy of it. After he promised, after he made a deal, after he shook my hand! “The rat!” I shrieked, kicking up great chunks of turf. “You can’t go with him, Polly. He’s a liar. He’s a cheat. He’s a rat.”
“Poisoning the Well ,” said Polly, “and stop shouting. I think shouting must be a fallacy too.”
With an immense effort of will, I modulated my voice. “All right,” I said. “You’re a logician. Let’s look at this thing logically. How could you choose Petey Bellows over me? Look at me—a brilliant student, a tremendous intellectual, a man with an assured future. Look at Petey—a knothead, a jitterbug, a guy who’ll never know where his next meal is coming from. Can you give me one logical reason why you should go steady with Petey Bellows?”
“I certainly can,” declared Polly. “He’s got a raccoon coat.”

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Random Thoughts!


"I am lost!" They say.

How do you know when you are lost? Is it that easy to know when you are? Life is not just a walk where you have to choose between two roads in a jungle.

"Choose the one less traveled..." they say and oh! with so much confidence.

But, the roads have multiplied while the world has become smaller -- a global village. A village, with interdependence and interconnectedness between everyone so much that if someone is to get cold somewhere someone else will be sneezing somewhere else. So much easy to stay connected.

And yet, it has become more complicated. Everything is so complicated. The roads have multiplied. The life passes in a blur. Everything is so confusing it is hard to know what is genuine and what is not. Everything feels like a part of propaganda and the interconnectedness seems bigger than the life to be able to do anything about it. What to believe in and what not to, that becomes a huge question mark in life. And you are lost.

After you are lost its not that easy to find oneself, as I have realized recently. The search continues, no matter what you do, the roads become wider and muddier and's very difficult to have any strong conclusion without having some extremists view points on the process and at the same time if you are not strong enough it's very difficult to know where the ground is, and we are bound to sway with a smallest breeze.

So, the reason behind this blabbering is just trying to calm down the thoughts that are creating havoc on my mind right now. And I am sure it is of no use to anyone nor for I have not felt the relief after this neither head nor a tail expression.

Time is precious. And, right now, I believe it is to everyone's knowledge that I am LOST. Not only just lost but also not able to see any roads to travel. It seems I am a 'gone case' as my friend has politely put it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Something worth Reading!

Against Discouragement 
By Howard Zinn
[In 1963, historian Howard Zinn was fired from Spelman College, where he was chair of the History Department, because of his civil rights activities. This year, he was invited back to give the commencement address. Here is the text of that speech, given on May 15, 2005.]

"I am deeply honored to be invited back to Spelman after forty-two years. I would like to thank the faculty and trustees who voted to invite me, and especially your president, Dr. Beverly Tatum. And it is a special privilege to be here with Diahann Carroll and Virginia Davis Floyd.
But this is your day -- the students graduating today. It's a happy day for you and your families. I know you have your own hopes for the future, so it may be a little presumptuous for me to tell you what hopes I have for you, but they are exactly the same ones that I have for my grandchildren.
My first hope is that you will not be too discouraged by the way the world looks at this moment. It is easy to be discouraged, because our nation is at war -- still another war, war after war -- and our government seems determined to expand its empire even if it costs the lives of tens of thousands of human beings. There is poverty in this country, and homelessness, and people without health care, and crowded classrooms, but our government, which has trillions of dollars to spend, is spending its wealth on war. There are a billion people in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East who need clean water and medicine to deal with malaria and tuberculosis and AIDS, but our government, which has thousands of nuclear weapons, is experimenting with even more deadly nuclear weapons. Yes, it is easy to be discouraged by all that.
But let me tell you why, in spite of what I have just described, you must not be discouraged.
I want to remind you that, fifty years ago, racial segregation here in the South was entrenched as tightly as was apartheid in South Africa. The national government, even with liberal presidents like Kennedy and Johnson in office, was looking the other way while black people were beaten and killed and denied the opportunity to vote. So black people in the South decided they had to do something by themselves. They boycotted and sat in and picketed and demonstrated, and were beaten and jailed, and some were killed, but their cries for freedom were soon heard all over the nation and around the world, and the President and Congress finally did what they had previously failed to do -- enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. Many people had said: The South will never change. But it did change. It changed because ordinary people organized and took risks and challenged the system and would not give up. That's when democracy came alive.
I want to remind you also that when the war in Vietnam was going on, and young Americans were dying and coming home paralyzed, and our government was bombing the villages of Vietnam -- bombing schools and hospitals and killing ordinary people in huge numbers -- it looked hopeless to try to stop the war. But just as in the Southern movement, people began to protest and soon it caught on. It was a national movement. Soldiers were coming back and denouncing the war, and young people were refusing to join the military, and the war had to end.
The lesson of that history is that you must not despair, that if you are right, and you persist, things will change. The government may try to deceive the people, and the newspapers and television may do the same, but the truth has a way of coming out. The truth has a power greater than a hundred lies. I know you have practical things to do -- to get jobs and get married and have children. You may become prosperous and be considered a success in the way our society defines success, by wealth and standing and prestige. But that is not enough for a good life.
Remember Tolstoy's story, "The Death of Ivan Illych." A man on his deathbed reflects on his life, how he has done everything right, obeyed the rules, become a judge, married, had children, and is looked upon as a success. Yet, in his last hours, he wonders why he feels a failure. After becoming a famous novelist, Tolstoy himself had decided that this was not enough, that he must speak out against the treatment of the Russian peasants, that he must write against war and militarism.
My hope is that whatever you do to make a good life for yourself -- whether you become a teacher, or social worker, or business person, or lawyer, or poet, or scientist -- you will devote part of your life to making this a better world for your children, for all children. My hope is that your generation will demand an end to war, that your generation will do something that has not yet been done in history and wipe out the national boundaries that separate us from other human beings on this earth.
Recently I saw a photo on the front page of the New York Times which I cannot get out of my mind. It showed ordinary Americans sitting on chairs on the southern border of Arizona, facing Mexico. They were holding guns and they were looking for Mexicans who might be trying to cross the border into the United States. This was horrifying to me -- the realization that, in this twenty-first century of what we call "civilization," we have carved up what we claim is one world into two hundred artificially created entities we call "nations" and are ready to kill anyone who crosses a boundary.
Is not nationalism -- that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary, so fierce it leads to murder -- one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred? These ways of thinking, cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on, have been useful to those in power, deadly for those out of power.
Here in the United States, we are brought up to believe that our nation is different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral; that we expand into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy. But if you know some history you know that's not true. If you know some history, you know we massacred Indians on this continent, invaded Mexico, sent armies into Cuba, and the Philippines. We killed huge numbers of people, and we did not bring them democracy or liberty. We did not go into Vietnam to bring democracy; we did not invade Panama to stop the drug trade; we did not invade Afghanistan and Iraq to stop terrorism. Our aims were the aims of all the other empires of world history -- more profit for corporations, more power for politicians.
The poets and artists among us seem to have a clearer understanding of the disease of nationalism. Perhaps the black poets especially are less enthralled with the virtues of American "liberty" and "democracy," their people having enjoyed so little of it. The great African-American poet Langston Hughes addressed his country as follows:
You really haven't been a virgin for so long.
It's ludicrous to keep up the pretext
You've slept with all the big powers
In military uniforms,
And you've taken the sweet life
Of all the little brown fellows
Being one of the world's big vampires, 
Why don't you come on out and say so
Like Japan, and England, and France,
And all the other nymphomaniacs of power.
I am a veteran of the Second World War. That was considered a "good war," but I have come to the conclusion that war solves no fundamental problems and only leads to more wars. War poisons the minds of soldiers, leads them to kill and torture, and poisons the soul of the nation.
My hope is that your generation will demand that your children be brought up in a world without war. If we want a world in which the people of all countries are brothers and sisters, if the children all over the world are considered as our children, then war -- in which children are always the greatest casualties -- cannot be accepted as a way of solving problems.
I was on the faculty of Spelman College for seven years, from 1956 to 1963. It was a heartwarming time, because the friends we made in those years have remained our friends all these years. My wife Roslyn and I and our two children lived on campus. Sometimes when we went into town, white people would ask: How is it to be living in the black community? It was hard to explain. But we knew this -- that in downtown Atlanta, we felt as if we were in alien territory, and when we came back to the Spelman campus, we felt that we were at home.
Those years at Spelman were the most exciting of my life, the most educational certainly. I learned more from my students than they learned from me. Those were the years of the great movement in the South against racial segregation, and I became involved in that in Atlanta, in Albany, Georgia, in Selma, Alabama, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Greenwood and Itta Bena and Jackson. I learned something about democracy: that it does not come from the government, from on high, it comes from people getting together and struggling for justice. I learned about race. I learned something that any intelligent person realizes at a certain point -- that race is a manufactured thing, an artificial thing, and while race does matter (as Cornel West has written), it only matters because certain people want it to matter, just as nationalism is something artificial. I learned that what really matters is that all of us -- of whatever so-called race and so-called nationality -- are human beings and should cherish one another.
I was lucky to be at Spelman at a time when I could watch a marvelous transformation in my students, who were so polite, so quiet, and then suddenly they were leaving the campus and going into town, and sitting in, and being arrested, and then coming out of jail full of fire and rebellion. You can read all about that in Harry Lefever's book Undaunted by the Fight. One day Marian Wright (now Marian Wright Edelman), who was my student at Spelman, and was one of the first arrested in the Atlanta sit-ins, came to our house on campus to show us a petition she was about to put on the bulletin board of her dormitory. The heading on the petition epitomized the transformation taking place at Spelman College. Marian had written on top of the petition: "Young Ladies Who Can Picket, Please Sign Below."
My hope is that you will not be content just to be successful in the way that our society measures success; that you will not obey the rules, when the rules are unjust; that you will act out the courage that I know is in you. There are wonderful people, black and white, who are models. I don't mean African- Americans like Condoleezza Rice, or Colin Powell, or Clarence Thomas, who have become servants of the rich and powerful. I mean W.E.B. DuBois and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Marian Wright Edelman, and James Baldwin and Josephine Baker and good white folk, too, who defied the Establishment to work for peace and justice.
Another of my students at Spelman, Alice Walker, who, like Marian, has remained our friend all these years, came from a tenant farmer's family in Eatonton, Georgia, and became a famous writer. In one of her first published poems, she wrote:
It is true--
I've always loved
the daring
Like the black young
Who tried
to crash
All barriers
at once,
wanted to
At a white
beach (in Alabama)
I am not suggesting you go that far, but you can help to break down barriers, of race certainly, but also of nationalism; that you do what you can -- you don't have to do something heroic, just something, to join with millions of others who will just do something, because all of those somethings, at certain points in history, come together, and make the world better.
That marvelous African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston, who wouldn't do what white people wanted her to do, who wouldn't do what black people wanted her to do, who insisted on being herself, said that her mother advised her: Leap for the sun -- you may not reach it, but at least you will get off the ground.
By being here today, you are already standing on your toes, ready to leap. My hope for you is a good life."

Howard Zinn is the author with Anthony Arnove of the just published Voices of a People's History of the United States (Seven Stories Press) and of the international best-selling A People's History of the United States.
Copyright 2005 Howard Zinn

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Eid Mubarak!!!


and I bow to you.
ya Allah,
for I am what you make of me.

as I am
the creation of you
you are in me.
and I am in you.

I am blessed
and I bow to you.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

One-Sided Love Affair!

(Pulicat Lake, TamilNadu with Shivani Yadav)

You have to know
I was here
I existed.

In these woods
birds chirped
and fishermen rested.

I was here
I waited.
Memories to be made
footprints to be shared.

You need to know
I existed.
Existed : longing for you!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Colourful threads --- Linking Memories!!!

It was the way Murugesan's eyes caught the small dust particles on 'thari', the way his expert hands knew how to untangle the colourful threads and the confidence with which he was turning them into beautiful cloth; that reminded me of my mother, back home in Nepal.

For as long as I can remember, I have never once seen my mother without threads. Whether she is taking a break from working in the fields, or on her way to the jungle to get fodder and timber, or babysitting my nieces, or chit-chatting with visitors, she would always be either making threads out of hemp and woolen raw materials or warping and wefting cloth on her 'taan'. She can make almost everything - from bags to blankets. So, I grew up wearing the shawls and sleeping on the sheep-woollen blankets she made. Even on my first day at school I carried an old hemp bag she had made for my elder brothers.

It was not just the confidence and sureness with which Murugesan handled those long, fragile strands that reminded me of my mother and her threads, but also the 'thari' (Tamil name for handloom), which looked similar to the 'taan' my mother uses while weaving. The only difference is the thari is more advanced than taan, with which weaving is slower and more laborious. It is bigger than taan and the cloth made on it is also bigger - both in length and width (19 meter).

The warping process, the first stage of making cloth by distributing the threads in a long vertical way was exactly similar. It has to be wound on to its roller and the threads passed through the lathe and fastened to the cloth beam. Here, because of the size of cloth involved, three men are needed for a job my mother does by herself.

In Vellore, Tamil Nadu, a handloom weaver.
The wefting process, however, was a bit different. The thari, the more advanced loom, consists of four wooden uprights joined at the top and bottom to form a box-like framework. The weaving operation consists of sending the shuttle containing the weft back and forth through the threads of the warp. Then, a device operated by a treadle lifts and lowers alternate threads and a lathe hung from the top of the loom enables the weaver to push each thread of weft up against the cloth already woven.

Therefore, though this process needs manual strength, it was made easier with some help from an advanced tool. It looked like a perfect machine in my eyes. While, in taan, just a few flat wooden plates and different sizes of rods are used as a tool while everything - from sending weft-shuttle back and forth to lifting and lowering alternate warp threads to weft -  is all done by hand.

It is not just the process of weaving that was different- in India, handloom weaving is an industry, not in Nepal. That is why 44 year old Murugesan of K.V.Kuppam has been working as a wage labourer for a decade. It took him two years to master the process of weaving while my mother learned the weaving technique from her mother and grandmother before she was a teenager.
Taking part in making threads out of goat and sheep wool, or hemp and allo fibre starts as soon as a girl is able to hold a taku (an indigenous tool used to make threads from fibre).  So, she has been weaving garments for more than half a century. But, unlike Murugesan’s, my mother's skill and work is invisible. It is taken for granted as the traditional knowledge of an indigenous woman, not as an income generating occupation.

In Nepal, weaving is more a women’s forte, with men just helping in making threads, cleaning the wool or preparing rods used in weaving. Buying threads is not much of an option so they buy wool if they do not have their own, or gather hemp fibre and make threads out of them, warp and weft those threads and make the garments of their desire. Only cotton is bought from the city - and they hardly buy them - for special occasions to make a special cloth for men called 'ghalek'. They don't have a mechanism to dye the threads so they only have the natural colours: black, ash-gray and white.

In K.V.Kuppam in Vellore, handloom weaving industries get white cotton thread from Gujarat at Rs 700/800 per kg and dye them in 20 different colours which usually cost Rs 150-250. Here, it is also a traditional family business where men and women work together, which is an interesting factor. Earlier it was also a caste or community-based occupation, but not any more.
In Nepal, indigenous communities are the ones who are mostly involved in weaving.

Murugesan is not involved in all the steps of the weaving process such as making threads. On the other hand, my mother does everything from washing the wool, making it into threads, and the warping and wefting. It takes her over a week to finish one garment and sometimes longer, especially when she has to do agricultural work at the same time.

But, there are some things in common that my mother and Murgesan share apart from their weaving skill. Whatever garments that are later sold in the US and the UK through Bishopstop Trading Company are made out of what Murugesan weaved for six days, giving him Rs 100 a day. With that money he is feeding his children and sending them to school. Though whatever my mother made was usually used by the family, she did manage to sell a few garments through which she supported my brothers and me.

Like Murugesan, who makes four meters of garment every day and is surrounded by threads and needles but doesn't have time to sew his torn t-shirt, my memories are of how her cholo (blouse) used to be torn and she hardly could find the time to sew them.

Murugesan and my mother also share a similar fate seeing how this beautiful skill is declining as the new generation is not learning it. As the owner of the handloom family business where Murugesan works, Anbu, says, "Not many people are doing it now.  Every kid goes to school and they are totally uninterested in learning the weaving." There are not many people coming to learn the technique and the ones who do come are all above 35 years old.

Anbu's anxiety resonates with my mother's words that I heard last year when I visited home. "I learned weaving from my mother. I wish I could transfer that to you," she had said wistfully. She had sighed, smiled and added, "But, what would you do by learning. Education is much more important. Of course, it is."  Here too, whoever comes to learn weaving are also women in their 30's, with their children studying in schools.

[During Covering Deprivation tour to Vellore, I met Murugesan, a handloom weaver, and got chance to see the handloom industry which reminded me of my mother, in Rukum. --- two women making threads in Rukum, Nepal. Photo courtesy -]