Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The death of the moon

This past Sunday I called my classmate Moon in Jerusalem from the top of the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacán, Mexico.

Moon
Moon, Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

Two ancient holy cities were thus connected by modern technology.

Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacán, Mexico
Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacán, Mexico

From the Pyramid of the Moon, a couple looks down on the Avenue of the Dead. No technology can stop anyone making their own walk down the avenue of the dead -- one reason we have holy sites, I suppose.

Couple viewing Avenue of the Dead, Teotihuacán
Couple viewing Avenue of the Dead, Teotihuacán

While the moon shines without blocking the light of the stars behind it (as Moon is fond of pointing out), it shines because of the sun, a star like those it shares the sky with. When the sun dies, the moon will remain, but it may not ever be seen again by any conscious being. With no one to see it, will it also be dead? No, a reader protests, it still exists. It is not dead. It simply cannot be seen. Likewise, when our body dies, do we still exist, merely unseen? Or to put the question another way: in the depths of consciousness, do we outlive even the stars?

***

Last Friday an old Mexican woman working behind a stall in Chicago airport asked me if I drank. She was happy when I said no. She left her husband in Mexico, she says, because he beat her and because he drank. She works long hours and everyday prays for her son. On the plane to Mexico City a Mexican man told me enthusiastically how he was going to visit some strip bars in a town near Cuernavaca, drink a lot of liquor, and sample the local women. All for much cheaper than is possible in Chicago. As he loudly told me of his plans, a woman sitting in front of him with her children asked him to shut up. He went on to recount a time when he was caught driving when utterly drunk by the police near Cuernavaca. A healthy bribe meant he avoided costly legal proceedings. He said you can murder someone in Mexico and a big enough bribe will set you free. If he was aware of how his willingness to bribe contributes to a culture of corruption, lawlessness and hence murder, he did not say.

"As a person acts, so he becomes in life. Those who do good become good; those who do harm become bad. Good deeds make one pure; bad deeds make one impure. So we are said to be what our desire is. As our desire is, so is our will. As our will is, so are our acts. As we act, so we become." - Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

"When you keep thinking about sense objects, attachment comes. Attachment breeds desire, the lust of possession that burns to anger. Anger clouds the judgement; you can no longer learn from past mistakes. Lost is the power to choose between what is wise and what is unwise, and your life is utter waste. But when you move amidst the world of sense, free from attachment and aversion alike, there comes the peace in which all sorrows end, and you live in the wisdom of the Self." - Bhagavad Gita

Monday, November 20, 2006

The death of two fathers

Someone asked me recently if what I write in this blog is true. Of course it is. I will share a tale with you which you can choose to disbelieve if you like. But I assure you, it is true.

My mother and father separated when I was four years old. I took the loss of my father badly. I missed having a father very much. I remember when he came back to visit our house with a new wife and a small boy wrapped in a white sheet, my half-brother. I felt abandoned.

When I met my step-father for the first time, he was not yet my step-father. He was my neighbor. I told him that I used to have a father, but he went away, and I did not have one anymore. Imagine a five year old boy saying that to a grown man. He remembered it. Later he and my mother got together. I remember the day my mother telling me I could call the man who had become my step-father "Dad". I remember him hugging me for the first time, when we were alone one evening. I felt safe.

I don't remember much from my youth, but I remember these things, for they were of seminal importance to me.

My step-father died of lung cancer in 1996. I was living in Manila at the time. He called me on the telephone on the day he died. I did not know he was going to die that day. I asked him if he was going to enjoy the cricket season that was coming up. He said, with a particular tone of voice, "no I don't think so." Later that day he coughed and coughed, coughing up blood and parts of his lungs into a bucket. He turned a different color and drowned in his blood as my step-sister held him. I attended his funeral in Upper Hutt, New Zealand. When I came back to Manila a week after he died, I went back to my internship on a Monday and there was a letter from him. He had sent it the day he died.

I was at work in 1998, still in Manila, when my mother called on the telephone to tell me some bad news. There was that tone of voice again. I thought immediately "my grandmother has died", but my mother had called to tell me my biological father had been hit by a train and killed instantly. Here is the the part that cannot be true, but is. I had written him an e-mail shortly before my mother had called, but I had not sent it. It was to be my first communication with him in a year or so. I even signed off with "Love" which was not something I did with him in those days. By the time my mother called me, he would have been dead for quite some hours, as the police had a difficult time locating his wife so they could notify her of the tragedy.

My biological father and I were not close. He rarely communicated with my brother and I when we were small boys, and as we got older things did not really improve much.

What I have to say next has no scientific basis that I am aware of. But I will say it anyway. Imagine if I had sent the e-mail to my biological father the day before he died, and he had read it. That would have been nice. But did we deserve that? Maybe it was our own stupid fault for not keeping in contact with one another. Instead, for some reason I had a strong urge to write it after he had been killed, even though I had no way of knowing he had died. Maybe he communicated with me after his death. Maybe in writing the e-mail that was never sent, he somehow read it. Who knows.

One thing is certain: for me the deaths of my two fathers were entirely different in character, but they tell a story that is fair and just. With my step-father our communication on the day of his death reflected our life together, and with my biological father it reflected the life we did not have together.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Loyal Daughters of Notre Dame

It was sometime in 1998, Manila. I was lying on a bed. Some men and maybe a woman were holding me down. I don't remember exactly, as I was not totally aware of all that was happening around me. I was wearing no underwear. A foreign object had been inserted into my anus, up past my rectum and into my colon. It hurt. It really hurt. My screams could be heard from the hallway. My girlfriend at the time, Buena, was debating with herself whether to charge into the room and put an end to things, but she did not. I could hear a female voice--the voice of authority and control in the room--saying again and again, "just a little bit further". I begged her to stop, but she did not. She continued looking at the television screen. The pain was unbearable. At last it stopped, and I passed out.

The foreign object in my intestines was a video camera. The woman who put it there was a doctor. The people holding me down were nurses. A person was missing: the anesthetist, who was supposed to make me unconscious before things got underway. He or she had not shown up. I had given my consent to the doctor to proceed with the procedure with a much reduced level of anaesthetic that she herself administered.

Rape is an event that occurs without the victim's consent. I have never been raped. I do not know what it is like to experience rape. But I do know for years after that traumatic experience in the hospital, there was no way anyone was going to put any kind of object anywhere near my anus. I may not ever give consent to it.

Sexual violence attacks the integrity of body, mind and spirit. This is what gives it its power. If it merely attacked the body, its effects lasting as long a common cold, then it wouldn't matter so much (ignoring of course the transmission of disease). Instead, its violation is profound, penetrating not only the body but emotions deep within the mind, emotions we cannot fully understand let alone control.

The raw sensitivity and brutal intensity of these emotions is perhaps known fully only to those who experience it, or immerse themselves in empathy with those who have. I would never have known the sense of violation of being "felt up" unless it happened to me. Of the range of sexual assaults, this is extremely minor. Yet I can never forget the time in San Francisco more than thirteen years ago when I was felt up. For the first time in my adult life I was wearing a dress. It was Halloween, and my costume for one of Castro's famous street parties was tame compared to many others. While leaving a bar with two of my friends, an Australian named Slim and an Austrian named Helma, someone, who I could not identify, placed a hand up the inside of my legs and headed toward my genitals. I tried to turn and around and see who it was, but people were packed in so tightly I could not do so. It was truly a creepy, awful and absolutely unwelcome feeling, leaving me with a sense of violation far more powerful than I would have ever imagined before experiencing it.

When I hear my female friends talk of their fear of being raped, I listen with all my heart and soul. I can ask them to describe how they felt, to hear how their body and mind responded to the fear. But I know that I cannot really know unless I experience that fear myself. My body and mind does not have the memory of rape, only the imagination of it.

This lack of experiential memory, paradoxically, is one reason among many why it is so crucial that initiatives like that of University of Notre Dame senior Emily Weisbecker's play Loyal Daughters are widely seen and discussed. The play, whose theme is sexuality and sexual assault as told by Notre Dame students, gave voice to actual student victims of sexual violence on and off campus. They included a woman raped in a library toilet by a member of the university's famous college football team, another woman raped by two men one after the other, and the attempted rape of one man by another. Their stories were at times graphic, and always real.

Loyal Daughters was performed this week at Notre Dame amidst some controversy, as the President of Notre Dame, Father Jenkins, withdrew his complete support for the play on the grounds that it 'at times takes a "neutral stance" toward consensual sex outside of marriage.' However according to student newspaper the Observor, Weisbecker said 'the goal of the play was not to explain Catholic teaching to audiences or preach right from wrong but rather to give "a glimpse of what's really going on [so they can] make [their] own decisions."'

In his inaugural address as President, Father Jenkins said "We will strive to build a community generous to those in need and responsive to the demands of justice – strengthened by grace and guided by the command to love God and neighbor. . . . Catholic social teaching insists that we embrace the whole human family, especially those in greatest need."

Women and men who have been sexually violated as students, faculty and workers are among those in greatest need of help on our campus. While I fully respect that one Father Jenkin's many responsibilities is to represent the teachings of the Catholic Church authentically, wisely and insightfully, I cannot help but wonder if his withdrawal of full support for the play undermined his support for ending sexual violence at Notre Dame. Would it have been possible for the women and men to tell their stories of sexual violence through the play without representing the reality of the environment in which these acts take place? Had this environment been stripped out of the play, would the audience have been able to relate their own everyday norms and attitudes on topics such as sex and alcohol to the dreadful acts the play reported? It is not enough to know that sexual violence occurs within the Notre Dame community. The play was responsible not only because of what it reported but also because it implicated attitudes many students hold, including those who would not dream of actually committing sexual violence.

As Father Jenkins himself said in his inaugural address, the "first principle" of a Catholic University is that "Knowledge is good in itself and should be pursued for its own sake." The second principle: "There is a deep harmony between faith and reason." Genuine social change requires not only faith in God, it requires faith in people: in their ability to think critically, examining their values and behaviours so that they can change them. With his deep knowledege of and respect for human nature, Father Jenkins knows this as well as anyone. By withdrawing his full support, whether he wanted to or not he weakened our community's ability to discuss openly our problems and make responsible changes in our lives. He weakened our ability to carry on the kind of conversations "in the dormitories, the dining halls, on the quads, and on long walks around the lakes" that he welcomes. We did not need to be preached to in the play. We needed to see ourselves and know more than ever that we need to make the promise of positive social change a reality.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Two phone calls with my mother

One of my most precious memories of my mother is one, strangely enough, where we were thousands of kilometers apart. We did not even get to exchange conversation. Yet all the same, I felt a powerful connection to her as we shared a special moment in time. It was the evening of December 31, 1999. I was in a large room functioning as the sleeping quarters, kitchen and general living area for two monks. It led into a temple in the Songzanlin Monastery, nestled at the foot of hills overlooking Zhongdian, Yunnan, China. Having just arrived an hour or two before, my hosts were as curious about me as I was about them. They stood looking at me in their robes with attentive smiles as I called my mother to greet her on the new millennium using a cellphone. I looked back at them joyously as I left a message enthusiastically telling her where I was and who I was with.

My mother, Jennifer Lynch
My mother, Jennifer Lynch

The two monks could not understand the details of much, if anything, of what I was saying. One of them spoke a little English, enough to say "come, sit down" and to welcome me to stay the night with them. In the next few days I discovered he had learned English while walking for three months from Nepal to Dharamsala in India. He would have caught the bus but he had run out of money after catching a bus from Yunnan into Tibet, and then from Tibet into Nepal.


Temple, Songzanlin Monastery

A few days later I received a happy email from my mother telling me about her new millennium experience on a beach in Aotearoa New Zealand, and the surprise and delight she felt surge through her when she listened to the unexpected phone message.

I put in hours and hours of meditation in the ten days I spent at the monastery. I remember going onto the roof of the temple building and gazing up into the stars in the dark of night, thinking that in our deepest consciousness we can outlive even the stars. I remember my host explaining the Chinese occupation of Tibet with simple yet remarkably vivid language: "China sit in Tibet, very bad". I remember him not letting me sweep clean the months and perhaps years of accumulated dirt in the room above the temple. I remember the room we slept in being so cold at night that water would freeze. Then there was the yak butter tea that tasted nothing like tea, but rather just as you would expect a mix of regular butter and hot water to taste. But most of all I remember leaving my mother a happy and hopeful message on the night I arrived.

A few years later my mother became a Buddhist in the Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Her new practice and faith was a great help to her as she struggled first with cancer, and then with her impending death. Within fifteen minutes of her passing away in the Mary Potter hospice in Wellington New Zealand on March 29 2006, I made another phone call. This time it was to Lama Karma Samten Gyatso, a Tibetan monk staying in Dharamsala. He performed an "ejection of consciousness" ritual by chanting over the telephone. When the ritual was completed he asked me to locate the crown of her head. When I had done so, he then asked me to grip some of her hair and pull it out. I remember thinking "but it will hurt!" before realizing that it no longer made a difference. Lama Samten informed me that the hair was to be used in a fire ritual to be held later that year in Dharamsala.

ejection of consciousness ritual
Ejection of consciousness ritual

Two phone calls across the world thus connected three Tibetan monks and a mother and son in the great mystery we know as life. There was a connection between those calls. They were not isolated events. They circle both my mother's life and my own.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Thank God and Greyhound

For the last couple of days I've been visiting my beautiful Tajik classmate Zamira in St Paul and its been great. After a good catch-up after a long time, Zamira and I went to the science museum to see a lot of dead Germans in an exhibition called Body World ("more than 200 real human specimens"), and took some pictures in a park in the freezing cold.

ZamiraZamira
Zamira

On the bus ride here, while motoring past the beautiful fields of rural Wisconsin, I was able to get through almost all of King Leopold's Ghost -- an amazing and tragic tale of the Belgian colonization of the Congo. Life is funny like that isn't it? In our hearts and minds we are in two (or more) continents at once, each just as real as the other.

A couple of guys in America once came up with the country and western song Thank God and Greyhound (She's Gone). One of the guys was from Indiana -- a neat kind of thought to have when riding on a Greyhound bus from Indiana, through Illinois and Wisconsin, and onto Minneapolis St Paul.

Thank God and Greyhound, you're gone
That load on my mind got lighter when you got on
That shiny old bus is a beautiful sight
With the black smoke a-rollin' up around the tail light
It may sound kinda cruel but I've been silent too long
Thank God and Greyhound, you're gone.


Where did she go, the woman of this song? Did she come to the rolling rural land of Wisconsin, where barns nestle up against groves of trees, basking in the late light of the day, fields of golden corn shimmering resplendently? Did she see family homes with devoted parents and content children, or homes with men who beat their women and children? Did she see the fading glory of the fall trees, green, yellow, orange and red? The endless stream of hotels? Did she smell the tawdry odors emanating from the McDonalds found everywhere, especially at Greyhound rest stops? Did she ride on a bus full of white college age students, like this one, or dominated by lower class blacks and whites, like the previous one headed into Chicago?

And what of the man who inspired the song? Did he love the woman? Were they lovers? Probably. Did he regard female orgasms as an expression of biological anarchy? Probably not. Did she think he was hick? Maybe.

What a vast and steamy metropolis America is, gleaming, rural, voluptuous, more compelling than it is forgettable.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sprinting to God

Two rows of men were neatly lined up for prayer in the Al Noor Mosque in South Bend tonight. As is the custom, the women were partitioned off in another side of the prayer hall. The men, old and young, were close to one another as they submitted themselves to God. One father had his young boy with him, an enthusiastic little fellow who took great delight in sprinting joyously across the prayer carpets and up and down the stairs while the elders were solemnly praying. His magnificent smile and sparkling eyes rippled across the room as he positively galloped back and forth. Occasionally he made room for himself in the tiny gap between his father and another man, boldly squeezing in his small body, forcing the men to shuffle sideways. His head barely came up to their waists, but he knew how to pray and his lithe body made the older men's bowing and kneeling seem labourious in comparison.

The little boy reminded me of a story from my Jewish friend Eliyahu McLean. When Eliyahu was a student in New York, like many other students he eagerly anticipated meetings headed by Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), a highly prominent Rabbi in the Chabad/Lubavitch branch of Chassidic Judaism. Emotions were running high among a large proportion of Schneerson's followers that any day the Rabbi would announce publicly that he was the Messiah. Many of his followers believed he was the Messiah, and he did nothing to dissuade them of this belief. Students had their pagers set to alert them when Schneerson was to appear at a meeting. When they were studying together, their pagers would all go off at the same time, and they would sprint through the streets of Brooklyn to the large meeting hall. Despite Schneerson being partially paralysed by a stroke and unable to speak, his presence was nonetheless electrifying. He never did announce his role as Messiah, and today his followers are are divided as to his status. Chabad/Lubavitch Jews who believe he was merely a normal Rabbi have a normal sized picture of him on the wall of their synagogues, whereas those who believed he was indeed the Messiah typically make do with a truly enormous portrait of Schneerson.

Believers all make their own way to God, some a little quicker than others it seems.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The boy who learned to cook

I recently made a new friend from Kenya. He knows how to cook, being taught by his mother from a young age how to not only cook, but also wash dishes and generally make himself helpful around the house. When he was a small boy, he thought nothing of this, because for him this was normal. When he became older, however, and played with other boys, he realised this was far from normal. He realised the other boys had to do none of these things. Instead, the women and girls of the house did everything. He questioned the wisdom of his mother's approach, and began to rebel. One day his mother sat him, his three brothers and two sisters down and had a talk with them. She pointed out that as there were only two girls, and four boys, it was unfair to expect the girls to do all the work for the boys. She had a valid point there, my friend had to admit. But we all know that inequity is often insufficient motivation to change people's personal behaviours, especially if it involves them doing extra work. She then asked the children if one day they might like to be married.

"Of course!", replied all the children.

She said to the boys, "What do you think of a situation where one day you come home and you are hungry. There is a lot of food in the house, but you do not know how to prepare it. Imagine some reason why your wife cannot prepare the food for you. Maybe she is not there, or maybe she is not feeling well. How would you feel that all that food was sitting there, and you could do nothing?"

The boys admitted avoiding such a situation would be a good thing.

Then came the clincher. She asked the boys if they wanted to grow up to be real men.

"Of course!", replied the boys.

"Imagine if you cannot cook," she continued. "You can see that your wife can make all kinds of demands from you. She could say 'I want this and I want that, and if you want dinner, you have to do it for me'. If you are totally dependent on her for your food, she can do that. Do you want to be controlled by her? Do you think you would be a real man if she controlled your life like that?"

My friend learned to cook and clean. His mother is a clever woman.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Those weird countries

The buses plying routes most used by Palestinians in Jerusalem are comfortable, reliable, efficient and relatively inexpensive. Being small, they run regularly, zipping along eagerly from one stop to the next. The only thing that seems to halt their journey is when they are stopped by the police or military, who undertake random checks looking for Palestinians who Israel determines to be in Jerusalem illegally. Palestinians who live in the West Bank and lack an Israeli permit to enter Israel, for instance, are not allowed to visit Jerusalem. If caught they face the prospect of a fine or even imprisonment.

Soldiers questioning a Palestinian bus passenger outside Tantur, July 30 2005.

Today the bus I was on, which runs from beside the old city to Bethlehem, was stopped for such a check. A policewoman boarded our bus. Her job was to collect the identification papers of everyone on board the bus bar the driver for her colleague sitting outside to examine, which she did with all the enthusiasm and joy of someone thoroughly unhappy with their job. She took a lazy glance at my passport, and collected everybody else's papers . She returned in a few minutes with the papers, and we were on our way.

Closer to Bethlehem, our bus was pulled over a second time, this time by the military. A super buffed up soldier entered the bus, his olive green shirt struggling to contain his incredibly muscular and attractively tattooed arms. His hair was cut very short, and his orange sunglasses were resting neatly on his green beret. His automatic weapon was slung over his powerful shoulders like a small toy. He talked to us loudly and enthusiastically in Hebrew, a happy smile and cherry tone of voice putting everyone at ease. The two Palestinian women sitting in the seats in front of me smiled. Having been through the routine many times, I had my passport opened at the page with my photo. He saw I am from New Zealand, laughed loudly, and said in English with a thick American accent "A kiwi!' The two women smiled again. He took my passport from me and briefly thumbed through it. He said I must be a photographer given I was wearing a vest. He was right, and I showed him my camera. He positively beamed and asked if I was going to take photos in Bethlehem or Hebron. I told him I was merely going to Tantur, just down the road. As he moved down the aisle onto the other passengers he methodically checked the overhead racks for anything suspicious, singing a tune from the early 80s as he did so. He may have been jolly but he was certainly thorough.

When the soldier finished checking the other passengers, he said "Ok Mr Kiwi, come with me off the bus please." Mr Super Buff then asked the driver to refund my bus fare before escorting me off the bus to be interviewed by another soldier. The bus left. Like the first soldier, the second soldier was also of American origin, jolly, and buffed. He was not quite as buffed as Mr Super Buff, but he had obviously spent hours in the gym like his buddy. As he looked through my passport, he began a series of questions. What was I doing in Israel? Photographing my classmates, I said. I pulled out my Notre Dame student ID. Where was I going? Tantur, I replied. What was I going to photograph there? I said I was staying there. Then the interesting questions began.

"You have been to a lot countries this year, and you cannot tell me that's for tourism," he said.

I said he was right, explaining that I was taking photographs of peace studies students doing their fieldwork for an exhibition to be held at the University of Notre Dame, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. I began listing each country I had been too, and the names of my fellow students -- Hala from Lebanon, who is in Cambodia. Maria Lucia from Colombia and Tania from Sri Lanka, who are in the Philippines. Mark and Lisa from the United States, and Lison from India, who are in South Africa. Alicia from the United States, YatMan from China, and Patrick from Zimbabwe, who are in Uganda. He interrupted me and I jokingly asked if any of the students are from the United States. And then came the important question.

"What were you doing in Pakistan," he asked, "also photographing students?"

"Attending another classmate's wedding," I said, grinning. "I got detained at the airport for seven hours because of that."

He laughed and said "Yes, you will get questioned after being in a country like that. Those other countries are weird enough, but Pakistan, now that's something else."

"It's a complex society," I said. "You should visit it. I have a Jewish friend working in the World Bank who visits all the time "

"No way, I am happy here!" he said as he handed my passport back.

I hopped on the next bus, whose passengers had already been checked by the first soldier, and made my way home to Tantur.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Life in Jerusalem

On Saturday I spent the day with a Jewish religious peacebuilder friend of mine, Eliyahu Maclean. Because it was Shabbat (the sabbath), and because Eliyahu is an orthodox Jew, that meant I could not operate any technology until the Shabbat ended. For instance I could not use the telephone or a camera (shock!). In the morning we went to a long service at a synagogue, and then in the afternoon we had lunch at a friend of his--a woman who had 14 children before her Rabbi husband left her for a younger woman. Her house was modest and cosy. I have never seen so many books in such a small place.

Eliyahu McLean
Eliyahu McLean

The sense of community among people who went to the synagogue is strong and vibrant. They loved to sing and swap stories. There was a point where I really wanted to use my camera--after the service, when people were drinking and eating, I noticed a woman in her 60s who was wearing giant platform shoes, a bright yellow dress, a huge blonde wig that made her look like she was 20, and an enormous pair of sunglasses.

Eliyahu was delighted to show me pictures of his trip earlier this year to India with his old friend Haj Ibrahim. They attended a conference on world ethnic religions, whose participants included indigenous sharman's from Latin America and Swedes attempting to recover their pre-Christian religious identity. A huge banner on the stage of the conference had the theme "spirituality without religion" prominently displayed in bold letters. I am sure that is an idea that would excite some people, but what the organisers really meant was religion without Christianity and Islam. Prominent in the conference were the Hindu fascists the RSS. Being India, there were many tens of thousands of participants, most of them men. You can imagine the noise as the massive crowd shouted triumphant Hindu slogans and listened to condemnations of Christianity and Islam. It was remarkable that Haj Ibrahim and Eliyahu were at invited at all. Naturally Haj Ibrahim wore his traditional Palestinian dress and kaffiyeh wherever he went. He charmed everybody, as usual, including even the head of the RSS. When he addressed 2000 students at a local school, he told them what he tells everybody--"you are welcome to my home".

Haj Ibrahim with another religious peacebuilder friend of his, Rabbi Fruman
Haj Ibrahim with another religious peacebuilder friend of his, Rabbi Fruman

The local media had a field day with Eliyahu and Haj Ibrahim, putting a photo of them on the front page with the headline "the enemies hug", a rather dramatic announcement given they have been close friends for years.

On Friday morning, I went to Tel Aviv to take photos of my classmate Moon in a meeting, before heading to Ramallah to take photos of Moon attending another meeting. We were taken to Ramallah by the co-chairperson of the organisation I used to intern for, the Israel Palestine Centre for Research and Information. The co-chairperson, Mohammed Dajani, comes from a distinguished family with a long history in Jerusalem. It is his family that owns the abode where Jesus was believed to have had his Last Supper. Moon and I had a brief meal at Mohammed's home. Jesus did not appear for lunch, at least not in a form I was aware of.

Such is life in Jerusalem.

Separation

Jerusalem is a city I am familiar with, having lived here for half a year. Returning to Jerusalem has surprised me. I have experienced a sadness I did not anticipate, a sadness caused by the overwhelming sense of separation the city engenders. Palestinians are separated from Jews by the separation barrier. Jews are separated from their most holy site, the Temple Mount. Muslims call this same holy site the al Haram al Sharif. Today Muslims control this site, and yet many Palestinian Muslims living in the West Bank and Gaza are seperated from this site because Israel denies them permission to enter its territory.

Dome of the Rock on the al Haram al Sharif
Dome of the Rock on the al Haram al Sharif

With a classmate I discussed the sense of sadness I feel at the sense of separation here. I was not able to articulate at all well what I was feeling. My time here now is different to my time here last year. Then it struck me. Life has not changed here so much since I left, but I have. I am separated from my mother, who died earlier this year. I am separated from those I love most dearly. I have become more sensitive to the pain of separation.

I am reminded of a story from India my meditation teacher Eknath Easwaran taught me. It has been years since I read it, but if anything its profundity has only increased since I first saw it. Once there was a man walking through a field with God. They were talking. God was thirsty and asked the man to get him a cup of water. The man walked to a village and in the first house he came across, he was greeted by a magnificently beautiful woman. The man fell in love. He forgot about the cup of water. He had a family with the woman. Life was good. The family prospered in the happy life of the village. One day there was a flood. Everyone in the village died except the man, who was devastated at the loss of his wife and his family. God appeared before the man and asked him if he had his cup of water.

This religious tale resonates deeply with me because it reminds me of one the central dilemmas of humanity, separation. One is tempted to think the ultimate form of separation is death. Yet according to the mystics what we are really separated from is the divine Self within us all. Until we are in union with God within, we will always be searching for ways to overcome that separation.

Learning to pray at the Western Wall
Learning to pray at the Western Wall

In life we seek connection with others, through community, family, our work and of course most especially through those we love. This story tells us in dramatic terms that no matter how deep and beautiful a connection with we have with others, we should always strive for the divine Self within.

You might be asking yourself, this is all very well and good, but what does this have to do with something like the separation barrier? Is not this barrier an expression of Israeli power imposing its will upon the Palestinian people? Is not one of the goals of the barrier--in some places an 8m high wall, in other places a fence--to reduce violence? Here you are talking of divine love, while in Jerusalem, this holy city, it is power that carries the day.

I ask you in return, is the separation of Palestinian and Israeli peoples the best way to reduce hatred and fear between them? Or will it merely increase hatred among those it affects most negatively? But most of all, is the vision it is based on all that humanity is capable of? Is it the best we can expect from the Holy Land for now?

Intimacy and power side-by-side
Intimacy and power side-by-side

Naturally different people will have different answers to these questions, as well as questions of their own. I am left wondering, however, how to connect love with power, and human bonds with human separation. I am wondering how intimacy is confronted by the ordinary facets of everyday life. And I want to write about them in this blog.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A quail of a tale in Pakistan

Depending on the intensity of the traffic and the state of repair of the Grand Trunk road, the village of Pabbi is about 45 minutes from Peshawar in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan. Among NWFP’s valleys and fertile plains are found idyllic villages. Here life is agricultural, governed by the coming and going of the seasons. Crops in golden fields sway gently in the breeze. Tall elegant trees line paths between villages and fields. Sporadically a lovingly tended garden resplendent in flamboyant color bursts forth amidst the muted browns and greens that dominate the landscape. Hardly a sound can be heard apart from nature’s gentle soothing charms. Pabbi is not such a village. It assails the senses as a city does, her raucous markets teeming with people, and buses and vans and trucks and most especially rickshaws spewing out noxious exhaust fumes, soot and dust. A garish hand painted sign dominated by a giant set of teeth advertises a dental practice; beneath it tired donkeys trot past baring their own teeth at blows from the sticks of their masters. Squashed vegetables and fruits litter the roadside. Garbage festers in open drains, the acrid stench of their dank waters mingling with the biting smells of cooking wafting over the imposing walls of secluded homes.


Children playing amidst Pabbis alleys

Children playing amidst Pabbi's alleys

Pabbi may have the body of an adolescent city, but the cultural blood flowing thickly through her veins is pumped by a rural heart. Vast loosely extended families cluster alongside various lanes and roads of the village, linked by forgotten marriages of years gone by. People rise early in the morning. Crops are tended in fields scattered throughout the village, becoming more abundant further away from the main road.

In Pabbi females and males are profoundly segregated from a budding age until death. Only children are free to see whom they please. Females are enveloped by flowing burkas whenever they go into the streets. Some men call the burkas shuttlecocks, for when they are white--as they often are--the resemblance is striking.

Shuttlecocks in field, Pabbi
Shuttlecocks in field, Pabbi

Refugees from Afghanistan have made their home in between the seams of interlocking family units in Pabbi, where despite the gangs they have formed and occasional police raids, life is safer and more prosperous than in Afghanistan. Although like the locals they too are Pukhtuns, locals refer to them as Afghans, noting that someone must be an Afghan if they are unable to locate where in the village the locals live.

Afghan girl, Pabbi
Afghan girl, Pabbi

As Pukhtun culture dictates, wives move in to live with their husbands in large family compounds, where brothers share the same compound as their parents. In the sanctity of the home gender demarcations rigidly and stubbornly retain their force, with brothers barred from laying eyes on their sisters-in-law even in progressive families. From one generation to the next the marriage of first cousins is especially common--birth defects are a subsequently reality in some families. Despite this danger marriages between cousins remain popular, not only to secure the financial standing of the family and because of limited social opportunities for young men and women to meet one another, but also because people who are not known cannot be trusted.

Girl in alley, Pabbi
Girl in alley, Pabbi


I spent thirty days in Pakistan. Although it was not my first exposure to the country, my thoughts were dominated as never before by a simple virtue: trust. Or more particularly, an apparent lack of trust exhibited by many Pakistanis toward each other and to human nature more generally. It has scarred seemingly every aspect of Pakistani society. Where does this profound distrust come from? Although I was not able to come to any substantial conclusions beyond mere speculation, throughout this little piece I will share one or two examples, and some ideas. Perhaps some readers may like in turn to share their own observations.

Boys in madrassa (school), Pabbi
Boys in madrassa (school), Pabbi


***

Pabbi is the village of Dr. Sher Zaman Taizi (DSZT), a former government worker turned novelist, academic, historian and translator. Cicero is reputed to have proclaimed “He who does not know history is destined to remain a child.” DSZT knows history. Born November 3, 1931 in the house of Kator Shah in Pabbi, DSZT is an authentic village intellectual in whose accounts the echoes of the distant past reverberate as robustly today as those from the present. Language fascinates him. Once in conversation he explained the origin of the early symbols of the ancient Egyptians, alif and beit. These characters eventually found their way into Arabic, and are still in use in Arabic to this day. He pointed out in English we use the term alphabet, the first two Middle Eastern characters thus linking East and West.

Dr. Sher Zaman Taizi (DSZT), Pabbi
Dr. Sher Zaman Taizi (DSZT), Pabbi

I share with DSZT a common interest in the life of the great Pukhtun and Muslim leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890-1988). I have been a guest in DSZT's home on two occasions now, first in 2001 and most recently in 2006. Our admiration for this truly remarkable man has led us to become friends.

DSZT has just finished translating the Pashto autobiography of Khan into English. Khan had two autobiographies, the earlier and less detailed of which is English. Unfortunately his more detailed autobiography was written late in life, when his memory was naturally not as strong as it once was. Furthermore he was not a great writer. Nevertheless the value of its translation should not be underestimated, as it will assist more people to become familiar with Khan's vision and practice of a vigorous, tolerant and spiritually grounded Islam, and his hitherto unique historical innovation in forming a disciplined, well-trained and highly organized nonviolent army.

Khan took on landlords, British imperialism, and ignorant local religious clergy with a powerful sense of honor and dignity that sprung from his total conviction that nonviolence would advance his people's lot. A practical visionary, in addition to his nonviolent army, the Khudai Khidmatgars (Servants of God), he founded schools, a journal and political organizations. He initiated a social revolution where formerly marginalized peoples achieved positions of respect and social power. He campaigned for the liberation of women. He did so in a complex, deeply stratified society where poverty and illiteracy were the norm. For his work he spent thirty years in prison yet never advocated revenge.

Policeman by Qissa Khawani Bazaar, Peshawar
Policeman by Qissa Khawani Bazaar, Peshawar

Khan did all this while working through his people's culture, using strong cultural traits such as a sense of honor and the value of keeping one's word to overcome elements of cultural decay. These included a fanatic fascination with revenge as well as more mundane characteristics that retarded their development, like their disdain for trades like shopkeeping.

While sitting over a cup of piping hot tea on an equally hot day in the dusty village of Pabbi it is easy to believe with total conviction the truth of DSZT’s assertion that for Pukhtuns, their culture is more vital than their religion of Islam. The religious clergy likes to see themselves as the arbitrators of religious life, but they know that should their religious preaching contradict local customs, they will be ignored. Besides this, their religious knowledge is weak and DSZT goes so far to refer to them as parasites.

Man laughing in Islamic bookstore, Peshawar
Man laughing in Islamic bookstore, Peshawar

One is tempted to relegate Islam to be of little force compared to local cultural norms. This would be wrong of course. Islam does exert considerable influence on the thinking of most Pukhtuns. Khan himself used Islam to advance the notion of nonviolence among Pukhtuns. Yet there are cultural norms so deeply held by a large number of Pukhtuns that one wonders what possible sway religious teachings could have in opposition to them. Take the issue of “honor killings” in which Pukhtuns who are perceived to have violated cultural norms are killed for their transgressions, including especially if they have broken taboos like sexual activity outside of marriage. Perpetrators are likely to be killed by their community or family if they get caught engaging in such behavior. Only those who are able to exploit their position of privilege and power, like landlords, are able to regularly get away with extra-marital heterosexual (and homosexual) behaviors.

DSZT and I had a passionate discussion about honor killings. He is a strong proponent of them, going so far as to refuse to call them honor killings. Couching his argument in terms of rights, DSZT believes that when an individual violates cultural norms, they have violated the rights of the community and must therefore be punished. I suggested that even if one was in total agreement that such behaviors were in violation of community rights, why did the perpetrator need to be killed? Could they not be punished in some other manner? He responded by saying that such people were no longer human, and therefore had to be killed. I pressed the issue further, saying that people can be led into such behaviors due to difficult circumstances over which they may have had little control, such as traumatic marriages devoid of love or childhoods in which they experienced sexual or emotional abuse. Furthermore, people make mistakes. Is not compassion therefore superior to community sanctioned murder? DSZT rejected this approach. He said that were these punishments not in place, society would break down and many people would naturally behave immorally. Killing wrongdoers is therefore essential to preserve decency.

The idea that people will behave badly should there not be a fear of punishment is not intrinsically wrong. There is an element of truth to it. Yet the idea that people must be killed to enforce limits on sexual behavior is predicated on the notion that people cannot be trusted. It indicates a fear of what people could do if they are free. In doing so, it shuts down the space for individual spiritual and moral growth by placing totalitarian faith in exacting adherence to community norms. The most prominent aim of honor killings is not the growth of individuals and their society, but the application of the most severe form of control over individual behavior possible--death--to enforce a vision of a good life which is clearly not shared by all people at every point of their life.

In his classic work Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire stated that freedom is “the indispensable condition for the quest of human completion.” Early last century, in his book Jnana Yoga Swami Vivekananda expressed the same idea even more forcefully:

[Y]ou must remember that freedom is the first condition of growth. What you do not make free, will never grow. The idea that you can make others grow and help their growth, that you can direct and guide them, always retaining for yourself the freedom of the teacher, is nonsense, a dangerous lie which has retarded the growth of millions and millions of human beings in this world. Let men have the light of liberty. That is the only condition of growth.

DSZT is a progressive Pukhtun man. His ideas on honor killings are likely representative of Pukhtun males of his generation, and probably a good number of Pukhtun females as well. Yet they are not representative of all Pukhtuns. Generational change may be taking place. One person who embodies such change is Samar Minallah, who is Executive Director of EthnoMedia and Development in Islamabad. She acts as media consultant to a range of organizations.

Samar Minallah, Islamabad
Samar Minallah, Islamabad

Samar is a Persian name meaning fruit. Minallah is Arabic, meaning from Allah.

Samar is a Pukhtun who is working to reform her culture, focusing on the rights of women. Samar says that the situation of women is very difficult to change in the NWFP. “It really is one of the close to untouchable aspects of Pukhtun life,” she says.

Samar has faced heavy criticism for this work by Pukhtuns who believe she is unpatriotic and embarrassing Pukhtuns. However, when she has spoken out, she has also received support from Pukhtuns who like what she says but feel powerless to say the same thing. Like DSZT, she believes that generally speaking, culture is more important to Pukhtuns than Islam. Being a worthy Pukhtun is more important than being a worthy Muslim. The honor of being a Pukhtun must be defended. Samar believes that aspects of Pukhtunwali--the ancient code of Pukhtun honor and custom--are good, even as there are other areas in need of reform.

I was interested to know how Samar developed the consciousness to work with women on the reformation of Pukhtun culture. She told me that she was encouraged by her father to develop friendships on an equal basis with Pukhtun women living in villages in rural areas, despite their lower socioeconomic class. As Samar grew older, she began to develop an awareness of the restrictions that these women faced in their lives, and which she did not face herself.

Woman watches wedding dancing, Rawalpindi
Woman watches wedding dancing, Rawalpindi

Interested in anthropology, Samar began documenting the cultural traditions associated with tribal Pukhtuns who were visiting shrines. She was interested in the particular customs of such visits. She noted that through folksongs, many of which are developed by women, women had a public forum in which they could air their problems in a culturally acceptable manner, somewhat anonymously but still publicly. The folksongs therefore contain a lot of meaning. Being a Pukhtun woman herself, Samar found that the tribal women accepted her and were very open to sharing their problems with her.

Samar points out that culture is never static. What is seen as a fixed cultural tradition today may have developed over time from an honorable tradition into a profoundly negative one. For instance, a current “traditional” method of dispute resolution involves the payment of a girl to a family that has been wronged. Samar has documented this practice in two districts in the settled areas (settled areas are parts of NWFP under formal government rule, as opposed to tribal areas which are largely autonomous). A similar practice occurs in other provinces of Pakistan, albeit with different names. Historically, Samar believes this tradition involved a girl from one family or village going to another family or village, and returning with gifts, signifying the respect of one family or village for the women of the other. However this practice decayed until it reached its present form. Samar is challenging this practice of dispute resolution in the Supreme Court, hoping to have it declared illegal.

Old man, Rawalpindi
Old man, Rawalpindi

There is the difference between the culture of the Pukhtuns living in the tribal areas, and Pukhtuns living in the settled areas. In the tribal areas, women work in the fields. Men are happy to introduce their wives to guests. In the settled areas, men will not do this. This may be because cultural traditions are more easily enforced when there is sufficient economic prosperity. In the tribal areas, women must work outside the home. Naturally they will meet outsiders from time to time. However, in the settled areas, it is not seen as necessary that women work outside the home.

As part of her work, Samar produced a talk show for a Pashto television channel, which she hosted. She invited some respectable guests. One of these guests was Dr Wiqar Ali Shah, a historian whose published works include research on Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the Khudai Khidmatgars (KKs). On the program, he defended the honor killing of women and said this is justified under Pukhtunwali. Samar was shocked that a professor from a prestigious university in Islamabad would advocate such a position. She temporarily forgot her role as talk-show host to challenge those statements of Dr Wiqar Ali Shah. She believes that due to his role as an academic, he is a role model to many young Pukhtun men.

In my opinion Samar is right. The primary role of an academic in society is to develop and pass on ideas to others. When these ideas include the killing of women for particular behaviors, then the person advocating them has one hand on the handle of the knife that is driven into the chest of the women being killed, and the other hand on the mouth that is smothered to stop the screams. Freedom is never merely an abstraction.

***

One approach to understand the intensity of distrust in Pakistan is to link it to the prevailing political and economic conditions. Since the country's creation in 1948, her governments have been dominated by military dictatorships; Pakistan is currently ruled by a military dictator. Their claims of selflessly serving the people aside, it is hard to escape the conclusion these regimes have grossly retarded Pakistan’s political progress. One Pakistani illustrated this with a vivid analogy. Supposing, he said, the guard at the entrance of the hotel you are staying in storms the hotel and takes it over, kicking out or even murdering the owners and dominating the guests. That is what the military has done in Pakistan. The analogy was especially effective because hotel security guards in Pakistan are fairly low status, in contrast to the military, which has awarded its members all kinds of lucrative perks. Indeed the military has enmeshed itself in another of Pakistan's long-standing problems--feudalism--which keeps millions in squalor and makes the practice of genuine political democracy extremely difficult.

Pakistan exists because in the lead up to the independence of India from Britain, some Muslims feared that they would be dominated by Hindus, so they clamored for a state of their own. They successfully convinced a sufficient number of Muslims to join them in fighting for a Muslim homeland. The fruitful collaboration of Muslims like Abdul Ghaffar Khan and the KKs with Hindus directly challenged this separatist worldview. Khan and the KKs did not support the creation of Pakistan. When Pakistan became a reality, they were called traitors by Pakistani elites and severely repressed. Despite the fact that they had sacrificed more than any other Muslims for independence from Britain, they were shamefully ignored or demonized by many non-Pukhtun Pakistanis. Pakistan's first Prime Minister, Liaqat Ali Khan, called Khan a Hindu. In 1948 150 supporters of the KKs were killed, and 400 wounded at a massacre carried out by the police in Babra. Khan spent fully half of his 30 years in prison in Pakistani prisons.

Could be that Pakistan, which so successfully repressed honest, decent leaders like Khan and in their place put feudalists, dictators and extremists, is naturally, almost unconsciously, going to impart upon its citizens a fear of human nature and a profound distrust in its possibilities? Could there be a connection between political repression and repression of human intimacy, both being founded on perceived need to control and manipulate society?

***

One way to explore these questions could be through poetry. Social activities in Pabbi are limited. Poetry is a local pastime that brings people together to exchange ideas and of course poems. On the first Sunday of the month the Kamil Pashto Adabi (Kamil Pashto Literary Association) meets in what is known as a mushaira. Mushaira, meeting of poets, is itself an interesting name, its etymology including poetry and consciousness. There are more than 250 such Pukhtun poetry groups throughout Pakistan and some cities in the Middle East.

Kamil Pashto Adabi, Pabbi
Kamil Pashto Adabi, Pabbi

The use of local languages in Pakistan is highly political. The official languages of Pakistan are Urdu and English; major local languages include Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto (spoken by Pukhtuns), Saraiki and Baluchi. Many Pakistanis converse in their local language but receive their education in Urdu and English, both of which are imported languages. Pakistan television provides only very limited programming in local languages like Pashto, and while there is more extensive radio coverage in local languages radio is not as popular as television. Pashto print media in NWFP are not widely read.

Fifty or sixty years ago it was hard to find an educated person who would write in Pashto. But thanks to the work of Pashto reformers the language has undergone a revival. Reformers included Bacha Khan, who formed the journal Pukhtun, and literary figures who introduced a range of literary genres into Pashto such as novels.

The Pabbi poetry group has been operating since at least the 1970s. For some time it was dormant, but on June 21 1979 it was revived. It is named after a significant literary figure, Dost Muhammad Khan Kamil Momund, who was from a small village close to Pabbi. Kamil was a lawyer and keen student of Khushal Khan Kattak, publishing a popular collection of Kattak’s poetry. The group used to be called the Khushal Pashto Adabi Jirga, but the name was changed on 23 July 1983 because there were already two other groups with the same name in Pakistan.

The Kamil Pashto Adabi presently hold their monthly meetings at the privately operated Cenna School and College, one of two popular schools in Pabbi. The proprietor and administrator of this school is Ghulam Nabi Cenna. Cenna has provided funds for publication of three books of poetry, including one by his son Adnan Mangal, who is a member of the poetry group. Adnan is a passionate and emotional young man in his early twenties who told me within five minutes of meeting me that he “would die” if I did not stay as a guest in his home. I did not stay with him. He did not die. Adnan married last year and he hopes to soon join his wife in Florida, where she lives. As a man who values his culture, I probed him as to how he would cope in a foreign culture and with a wife who might not necessarily share his views on the role of women. It quickly emerged that Adnan would not like his wife to work. “Not at all?” I asked. “What if she wanted to become a lawyer or something like that”. He agreed this would be a fine occupation--he is happy for his wife to be in any job where she is the boss, but he would not like to see her work under someone in any job which impinged on her honor or dignity. He would rather have her at home. Only late in our conversation did it emerge that she is still in high school and is only 15 years old.

Adnan Mangal, son of Ghulam Nabi Cenna, Pabbi
Adnan Mangal, son of Ghulam Nabi Cenna, Pabbi

Men and women do not mix in social occasions in Pabbi. The only exceptions are activities such as weddings, which are in any case limited to family only. So in this poetry group only men meet. There is a young and bold poetess in Pabbi, Naheed Sahar. She runs a school known as the Sahar Educational Academy. She was previously vice-principal at Ceena. Despite being a published poet, as the subculture of Pabbi dictates, she is unable to attend Pabbi’s mushaira. Fortunately for her (and her society, I believe), she is able to attend mushaira elsewhere in NWFP, where gender segregation is not so unyielding.

The poetry meeting I attended was a small affair. But this is not always so. On the 22nd of Feburary1980 a big show was made at the Government High School in Pabbi in which guests included the Federal Minister for Education, Tourism and Culture Nawabzada Mohammed Ali Hoti, and the Provincial Advisor for Education Abdul Hasham Khan. The audience was over a thousand. The meeting continued for the whole day and into the night. The theme of the meeting was the famous Pukhtun poet Khushal Khan Kattak, the second most famous poet among Pukhtuns. Kattak was a kind of warrior prince, a man who adored poetry as much as the many women in his life.

Pervez, a taxi driver, is another member of Pabbi's poetry group. He recited his poem by singing it in what is known locally as a “sing-song” manner. His father-in-law Ahmad Khan was a very popular folk singer who used to sing on Peshawar radio. That was in days before the radio station had recording equipment, so such performances were live. Ahmad Khan adored quails, and one time he brought a live quail with him into the studio, which he placed on a chair. While he was singing on air, a man entered the studio and sat in the chair, leading Khan to shout loudly in the middle of his song “You are killing my quail!” One can imagine the bemused reaction of his listeners throughout the province!

Mr Pervez, son-in-law of Ahmad Khan, Pabbi. It was his father-in-law who brought a quail into the radio station and caused a commotion on air.
Mr Pervez, son-in-law of Ahmad Khan, Pabbi. It was his father-in-law who brought a quail into the radio station and caused a commotion on air.

Other members include Nasir Afridi, who is an English teacher and student of Buddhism and Pashto. Zahidur Rahman Saifi is a railway station master; Liaqat Ashiq, a tailor; Hajji Adbul Wadood, Chief Head Draftsman WAPDA (retired); Mohammed Ghafoor Khan Kheil, another railway station master, but from Swat.

Hajji Adbul Wadood reads his poem, Pabbi

Hajji Adbul Wadood reads his poem, Pabbi

In the meeting the poets read (or like Pervez sing) their poetry, eager for feedback from other members. The meeting was a joyous affair, with affectionate laughter and murmurs of appreciation accompanying most readings. DSZT introduced the idea of poetry criticism to the group. Before this poets read their work and there was little or no feedback. At first poets felt insulted or aggrieved when their work was criticized, but in time they came to appreciate the feedback. DSZT suggested that it was best that they not respond to any criticism or feedback from the group, except when answering questions of clarification. This mirrors the process of publication, for when a book is published, there is no chance for dialog between the reader and writer--the book takes on its own life in the mind of the reader.

Man listening to music, Karachi
Man listening to music, Karachi

Perhaps in poetry we might find expressed the yearnings of the Pukhtun spirit for not only their traditional desire for political freedom, but freedom from all that bonds the human spirit. This could be an interesting area of research. Intriguingly, the most popular poet among Pukhtuns is the mystical poet of Peshawar, Rahman Baba (A.D. 1650-1715). If Kattak is the archetype of a stereotypical Pukhtun male, then Baba could well be its antithesis. Baba hardly bothered following religious norms, instead bathing himself in the intoxicating presence of divine love. For one who feels such ecstasy, what need is there for social customs and rules?