Compassion

imageRob Lawrie is a simple man, who happened to feel a twinge in his heart. It is called compassion and it is a very human emotion. Lawrie knew this family in the asylum camps in Calais and he was attached to their little girl(Bahar). Over time the family had come to be his friends. His compassion almost landed Lawrie in prison.

How does one classify this situation. An Afghan family, whose fate had turned against them. They lived some sort of rural life in Afghanistan and I guess they must have called it normal. However, whatever the circumstances, they ended up in Calais in a camp. They were asylum seekers, with zero status, living at the Jungle camp. Not really able to go back to their previous home and stuck here in a veritable prison.

One cannot even blame the French Government or people. They, like others in Europe, are facing this refugee crisis. It is the sort of thing which requires a very big heart. The heart requires to be even bigger, if it is incessant and continuous. Attrition sets in, and peoples insecurity fires up. There is economic and emotional fall-out and it is very difficult for humans to face it. The French Government has been under severe pressure on refugees and more so after recent terrorist events in Paris.

Some of the pressure then translates into the quality of the facility. The budgets are stretched and so the Jungle camp is not exactly five star. Infact it is more or less like a slum. The cold makes it even more unbearable. Maybe it is deliberately kept that way, to discourage residents. This Afghan family like others, has been living there. In case we do not understand, this is really at the edge of existence; hunger, poverty, inadequate facilities. No one really desires this sort of existence. Especially the uncertainty and the lack of something to do. People are just there, all day long.

It is really the luck of the draw. A roll of fate and one who lives in a chateau in France could as easily have been born in Afghanistan. Or this very Afghan family, could have been born in Calais, spoken the tongue, had documents which were French, worked locally and may have been on the outside, looking into this very camp. That is the way fate dodges some and awards others. No achievement, just plain luck.

The Afghan father said at the trial that he had asked Rob Lawrie to take the girl to UK several times, but he had steadfastly refused. On his last visit, he came to see them one last time. Bahar slept in his lap. Even if a cat curls up and sleeps in ones lap, one feels attachment. Here was a small, innocent human. Lawrie must have felt a cascade of emotions. Guilt, sadness, love and plain old compassion. He succumbed and picked up the girl and took her with him to the UK. Its a dangerous place to be, when faced by emotions and doing an illegal operation. Lawrie got caught and landed up in court. But thank God for other compassionate humans. The court saw it otherwise. Lawrie’s life could have been ruined, instead he was let off. His interview post the trial, confirmed his emotional, compassionate nature. A decent human, who thought that doing equitable and right, is more important than doing just the legal thing. Unfortunately, despite Lawrie, the family is back in their camp and the young one still suffers.

The world has changed. For millennia people just traveled everywhere. Ibn Batuta traveled all over for 30 years and Marco Polo went to China for 25 years. There was no scarcity, no documents or nationalities. Within the last 50 years, as human civilisation advanced(?), our hearts have shrunk. We put up barriers and instead of thinking that the world and its resources were on lease to us for life, we now own them to the exclusion of others. We face a terrible period in the next few decades, as environmental damage and resource conflicts will create multiples of refugees, compared to the numbers now. As a reminder of compassion, I hark back to 1980, when 3 million Afghan refugees overnight landed up in Pakistan. The numbers peaked at 4 million and a majority of these have now faded into the local population. Others stayed for a quarter of a century before going back. Pakistan is a developing country with few resources and has probably paid an economic and cultural cost, but nevertheless opened its heart for its neighbours. In the case of Rob Lawrie, he showed this very compassion; I hope his actions are contagious and others follow suit.

Advertisements

A Whiff of Air

imageMemories of a crabby individual, small grubby hands, dishevelled shirt and always ready to grab ones snacks. He was not very nice I think. All that in a rather stark environment; white school building, with some blue in it, and a ground with not a blade of grass on it.

I think it was hot, but then maybe it was not. As far back as memory can stretch to over 50 years, I know we played a lot and sweated; so it felt hot. Mind you, not that it mattered, as we had different engines inside and these could run the best part of 12 hours. The Tuck Shop – don’t know if it is still called that- was cheap and a paisa 50 coin was a king’s ransom. There were plenty of trees, but mostly neem and jungle jalaybee. Both seem to have gone out of fashion nowadays. One did not need to break the jungle jalaybee fruit either, as it fell down and could be picked up by us predators. Teachers and prefects were ‘sirs and miss’ and you had better obey them. Sigh!

These asides and digressions notwithstanding, getting to the main point. So here they were, part of memory, crabbiness and grubbiness all in one individual. But what to do, he was in the same class and also shared the same long double desk. As if this was not the outside of enough, he would accompany me at break-time and home-time. I don’t think I was forced to be friendly, but he was around and convenient and to be truthful, back then, I did not really think beyond the next hour or day, so really had no long term plans. Had I known i was setting the agenda for a school and life long relationship, I might have reconsidered.

As the years progressed, life became a bit more structured, and the simplistic thought processes stretched beyond hours to days, then weeks and even a full term. Still, he was around. The long desk had disappeared, we had desks in various places in the class, but old habits die hard and he was still around at breaks and home-time. That classed as strong friend. I remember him being bigger and beginning to develop a gross sense of humour. Very gross!

This then merged into teens, O levels, sports, A levels, personal ambitions, music and girls. Yes also not to forget, the cigarettes and cards. Of course now the net was far wider and many friends grouped together. But by now we were fast friends and shared together, compared notes, grew scruffy moustaches and side-burns and tried to look cool. Truth be told, in the world of that time without internet, we knew little and TV did not help. We were gauche individuals, who had a lot to learn and little refinement in us. Shudder!

So came school ending and finally we went our separate ways. One went to UK and the other to US. The last few months post A Levels were rumbustious. We were in anticipation of an adventure. Little did we know. The world turned out harder, tougher, and more real than anyone knew. It taught us lessons worth a lifetime.

Now, I am sitting across him. The hair is gone, weight some way heavier, prominent jowls, jaded look and health a huge question mark. The crabbiness is back, but even more so, there is a look of defeat. The intervening years have not been kind to my friend. He chose to live his life abroad and a good degree and a successful career seemed beckoning. Life intervened and decades of over indulgence later, this is now someone else. Is he even a friend anymore? Well there is shared history and nostalgia. But our thought processes are so different. Our belief’s are different and cares are different. There is just an eagerness to be curious about each other, maybe shades of some envy and a glut of sadness.

This life has passed by like a whiff of air, caressing as it went by. So we who started by sharing a desk and snacks everyday of our lives, spent a decade plus sharing all the days of school, we are now 12000 miles apart and probably a world and a lifetime apart. Sigh!

The picture is from dreamstime.com, a free picture site.

My montage

imageThey say that life flashes by in seconds, when Malik-ul-maut comes calling. Shudder! We will all find out at the end of our time. The mercy of Allah prevail on us all.

In this case, for five decades I have watched this world. My montage flits by too and one sees existence (‘just life’) flash by. Its been like no other half century period in mankind’s written history. We have gone from manual to nano in a few decades. For some seven millennia before that, there was little change, then the wheel accelerated from 1750 plus and now bang, we are in warp speed.

Stepping out on a road in 1964, one sees wheels. Powered by basic engines, and simultaneously by camels, donkeys and horses. The roads are not crowded but there are no metros or flyovers, Simplicity prevails and yet there is some order.

Office technology is non existent. Brain, pen and paper and our own human engine drives work. Work is hard, but we do add columns and compile numbers. And when you go home, the old box like radio plays out music and news. Rarely one sees a flash of television, it is black and white, and what is presented is also simple and real, yet imaginative. Just hear the quality of music. Beatles, Rafi, Mehdi Hasan.

Similarly, step in an office and there are registers, pens, paper, pencils and workers pouring over these. What a strange place, no computers, no mobile phones, or calculators even. Not even a photo copier. But soft, there is the telex machine. It is the basis of our communication and we see telexes being flashed out to various places in the world.

Images of humans. They are not Shias, Sunnis or Punjabis or Muhajirs. Nor Ahmedis or Christians. Actually, the montage does not make clear who they are. Just humans! I can see the Brezhnev Doctrine, Johnson and Mao and Vietnam; USA; Communism, USSR and China. Fear and money. Lots of fear! In the background is de Gaulle and he is railing at the British, keeping them out of the European Common Market. And you also see Nasser from Egypt….smug and not knowing what will happen to him soon. But there is Shah Faisal and the Shah of Iran and they are leaning towards and listening with respect to Ayub, who towers over them. Pakistan stands respected in this comity of nations, the Muslim power of the world and people listen to us. In Washington they only think of the nuclear conflagration. They are not bothered about us at all. We are small fry. The Commies could take over and destroy the world while Muslims are backwards and minuscule.

The montage starts rolling quicker. It cascades by. Early computers, then digitalisation, see Walesa in Poland and then the Berlin Wall falling, Afghanistan, Thatcher, Reagan, Gorbachev, Shah of Iran lonely on Mexican beaches, carrying cancer inside. Sabra and Shatila and Israeli cruelty. Even then, no one cares. Bosnia, as evil and torturing as Gaza today. Oil and wealth. Lots of wealth!

Then 9/11. See the world change…we are now evil and hunted. Maybe dogs are better. Afghanistan, Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, CIA, Mossad and cruelty. Lots of cruelty! Lots of treason! Our own rulers, mistreating their own, deserting them. Snakes! Israelis bomb Gaza hospitals, shelters and schools and no one says its wrong.

The world has changed these 50 years. We are advanced. Technology brings comfort. Automation and power. The human race can now rise to a level where it can spend time self actualising. Instead, our societies and families break up, drugs and spirits are overused, malnutrition for over a billion people, bombs galore, resident evil walks in and out of our homes and we do not recognise it. Decency is for imagery on Twitter and FB. Public imagery and media are dinosaurs and reality hides in blankets. We have everything material, but we have no substance. No wonder they talk of greater Israel, the Dajjal and the Mehdi. Lord help us. They know not what an evil period of bloodletting it will be. Wish we would slow down, where slow is preferred, less is preferred and happiness is supreme.

Bob Dylan “the times they are a’changing”

The picture is from dreamstime.com, a free picture site.

%d bloggers like this: