Monday, September 07, 2020

Memories of Dad

Memories of Dad 
My father passed away last year  while I was in the hospital.  It was the night of March 16-17, 2019 just before his 91st birthday. I was unable to attend the funeral and still haven’t been able to visit his grave. (One day I’ll take up my brother’s kind offer).

These are the memories of dad I wish to pass on to our children.

He loved us, but his final thoughts when he slipped away were of his grandchildren.
I believe everyone chooses their parents, names and direction in life before they’re born. (Then forget their choices immediately after). And I was fortunate to be born to these parents, at that particular time, in Lahore, Pakistan. 

The earliest memory I have Is being surrounded by their love, so I’ve always tried to do the same for my kids. He set me on the arc of my life, and each step of the way, he provided the opportunities to move on to the next milestone. So I wish to remember him, and give thanks for everything, with love. 

A sense of Adventure:
Dad was born in the maternal haveli (mansion) in Lahore’s old city, owned by Kashmiri hakims (herbal physicians) but his heart was with the paternal family home in Mansuri (Mussoorie) India the foothills of the Himalayas. At 7000 feet, he developed a passion for mountains there, and trekked all over, once to the Khunjerab Pass altitude 4693 meters (15397 feet) on the border with China (I love mountains too).

Love of Travel:
Soon as I was born, he was posted to the London embassy (and after that, Tokyo) so I didn’t go back to Pakistan until I was almost 8 yrs old.  We went by ship, that’s how people got around then. 

He appreciated British culture, values and history and passed it on to us.

London was filled with the spirits of those killed in WWII, and likewise, Tokyo which informed my lifelong interest in spirituality. 

I remember how happy my parents were in each other our early years in the UK and Japan. These therefore are my favourite countries and cultures.

He insisted we only speak English at home which really helped me in life. (My second language was Japanese; I had to start learning Urdu when I returned).

My next memory was of me (age 2) and my brother Tahir (1) laughing like loons, crashing one of those oversized battleship prams down the stairs of our second floor flat in London. 

Another time I let myself out through the garden gate and was found later, wandering around a park. I was two. 

Later that year  King George VI died and Elizabeth II  became Queen (we left London before the coronation). This probably explains why I’m such a fan of constitutional institutions :)

After a brief stay with my grandparents in India we flew to Japan in a TWA Super Constellation, and a stewardess took me to visit the pilots in their cockpit. (It was early 1953, before the dawn of jet travel).

When we landed in Tokyo I remember sneaking out of the hotel we were staying in  and charmed my way into a cinema without paying. I was 3 1/2 years old and Captain Blood, with Errol Flynn, was playing. 

He disapproved of comics but mom and I convinced him I was improving my English. He enrolled me in kindergarten in an American school before I turned 4 because my birthday fell in the academic year. That early start was ok, I’ve loved school ever  since.

Our neighbours were a polyglot mix from all over, American, Turkish, Iranians, Japanese, people from India. He was unprejudiced, so made friends easily. Every one who knew him remarked his kindness and gentle manner.

Once, a gang of Muslims wanted to beat up an Indian kid with sticks. The gang leader was shamefully, another Pakistani, and when I asked why, it was like it was self-evident, “because he’s a Hindu”. I was 5. and these kids were all about a year older, so obviously, their prejudices came from parents. 

I slipped away and warned him, so he was able to defend himself quite capably and the gang slunk away.

Our neighbour was an American school teacher who allowed me to read books in his home library. He introduced me to Mark Twain :) and also, the author Joseph Campbell when he visited Japan (1955).

Many cultures:
Those were the early 50’s, when it seemed like I met the best of every nation and culture, American, British, Indian, Japanese, Pakistani and the number of people I met who affected my life, and how it was Dad who was the catalyst for change. So thanks, Dad.

He always had a smile for us and taught me to be adventurous and independent through personal example.  

Mom sang a lot; in Urdu and English-she taught me cooking and to appreciate reading, music and poetry.

He had a problematic relationship with his father, so determined to make his own way in the world, he left British India at the age of 16 to go to Sri Lanka where he found employment, slept on the floor of the store to save money. 

He went back to Qadian, Punjab in 1947 just before Partition to protect his parents from marauding Sikhs, patrolled the town armed only with a lathi (long cane). 

15 million people were ethnically cleansed on both sides in the biggest mass migration in history, and up to two million people were killed, but Qadian was miraculously spared till the town was evacuated by Pakistani military trucks. (300 volunteers remained behind to protect the town being occupied by evacuees from the other side of the border).

At heart, he was a romantic.

He’d known my mom since childhood, (they were cousins) and declared he would marry her one day. It was a love, not arranged, marriage and they wed in 1948.  

Processing grief:
He never was the same when his mother died tragically in an accident. Then when my younger brother passed after a long illness both parents changed, they never were the same again.

I was processing my own grief and knew I had to get away. So at the age of 11 I applied for and won a scholarship to PAF Public School Sargodha (thousands of applicants from all over East and West Pakistan, only 60 were admitted every year, I placed 11th). 

Earlier when my grandfather stormed out of the Qadiani sect (we have a long history with them) and sent a telegram to the Caliph saying he was taking all his family with him, they went along with his dictates-only dad defied him by sending a telegram saying he was still a loyal member of the Jamaat. I only hope I am half as brave as he.

They published an obituary of his contributions here: 

Respect for other beliefs:
He was a founding member of the Jamaat in Canada and helped establish mosques all over, yet bore with equanimity my announcement I wasn’t even a Muslim. 

He asked “so what do you believe then?” and listened patiently while I explained my syncretic Buddhist-Hindu philosophy. He was honest about his beliefs. I appreciated the relationship I had with him, that I could be honest about mine.

It was much later I discovered we were descended from Sufi mystics, which explains some inexplicable things.

Surprisingly modern, he encouraged my mother to wear a swimsuit to take us swimming in the local swimming pool in Tokyo.

Once, when a photographer took a colour photo of her in shalwar kameez and it appeared on the cover of a Japanese magazine he was very proud. She also appeared in fashion shows modelling traditional Pakistani dress- no hijab or purdah then :)

He spoke Japanese quite fluently and loved the people and culture. Tea tasting ceremonies, communal hot baths, visits to temples and shrines were all food for imagining and wonder.

He was a keen photographer so bought a twin reflex Mamiya medium format camera and took lots of pictures all over. The one thing I wish I inherited but it went missing over the years.

More Adventure:

He took us all over Japan. Once we stayed in a country inn and when the shoji blinds were pulled back there was Mt. Fuji, reflected by the light of the setting sun in the water of a still lake. Magical. Dad climbed it the next day.

Moving back to Pakistan  on a Dutch freighter we got caught in a typhoon off the Sea of Japan and had to shelter in a bay. We lost our anchor but survived. The rest of our trip from Hong Kong to Karachi was uneventful but sunsets over the ocean were spectacular.

He came to pick me up from school with the family in our new VW Beetle. On the 1200 kms trip back he taught me how to drive stick shift. I was 13 then. Made good use of that skill when I took my family to Europe for a four month long driving tour.

One door closes, another opens: 

He’d looked forward to being posted to the Los Angeles consulate but that fell through so we ended back in Pakistan which opened another door for us, he got a job with Mitsubishi and we went to the best schools. It was a better, earlier time.

When I failed the final medical exam to get into Air Force College Risalpur I was disappointed but he got me admitted to his old school, F.C. College, Lahore which was run by American missionaries and that's where I continued my education. 

When I graduated from University in 1970 and saw the direction our country was going, (it broke up within months) so I prayed and within two weeks he decided to emigrate to Canada for a better life for his children. Got a job with another Japanese company, Toyota :)

He even sponsored so many relatives to come here we have quite a clan in Canada 🇨🇦 

And even then he paid for my first year accounting course at the University of Toronto but after a semester when I decided it wasn’t for me he was fine with that.


For three years I was unable to get over grief for my brother passing till someone showed me how to contact spirits. That taught me there’s an afterlife, after all, what Tibetan Buddhists call Bardo, Christians Purgatory, Muslims Barzakh. 

So there’s no surprise this message from him showed up in my inbox: a photo of Sakura, the Cherry Blossom festival in Japan March 13, a few days before his 1st death anniversary. 

I remember he was enraptured by our first viewing of cherry blossoms back then 🌸 

These are my memories of Dad: at heart, he was in my opinion not a religious, but a spiritual person, who bore whatever life  threw at him with grace.

So thanks, Dad. I love you.

Friday, September 04, 2020

Iqbal Bano, Hum Dekhenge (We Shall See)

Listening to Iqbal Bano, the subcontinent's great ghazal singer. 

Hum Dekhenge

A protest poem written by her friend Faiz Ahmed Faiz in the darkest days of Zia's military dictatorship, she defied his ban on public music and Faiz's 'leftist' poetry by appearing in a concert at Lahore's Railway Stadium before a crowd of 50,000.

This song went on to inspire a whole generation of young activists on both sides of the Indo-Pak border; today you can even hear Hum Dekhenge chanted by protesters in Occupied Kashmir!

Her voice is sublime, with a range and power equivalent to great African-American spirituals. Even if you don't know Urdu, please listen.

This rekindled the love for Urdu poetry I developed in college, and the song is equal to "We shall overcome" imho.

(My translation)
"All crowns will be toppled/All thrones overturned/And rise to heaven/Like cotton fluffs/When the final days come/The invisible poor and oppressed/Will finally be visible/And all will see/The face of God/...

The refrain and closing verse Hum Dekhenge (We shall see) is from the Quran, the leftist poet is using Islamic verses to rebuke the dictator who used religion to divide the country

This recording is from a performance the next year in Lahore's Alhamra Hall at the annual Faiz Festival. Iqbal Bano is said to have worn a black Sari in protest against the dictator's ban on the 'Indian'  garment (he even banned kite flying, the sale of musical instruments and celebrations of the Hindu holiday of Holi).

The audience sang along with her and roared the refrain Hum Dekhenge! And then she did a remarkable thing, against the conventions of ghazal (Indo-Persian Sufi poetry). The performance is supposed to be by seated musicians and singers, but at the final stanza, she stood up in silent protest! The crowd went wild.

Zia's goons went around the next day and confiscated all the tapes they could find but the original had been hidden away and smuggled to Dubai where it spread back to India and Pakistan. The rest, is history.

Sadly, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Iqbal Bano are no longer with us but their song lives on in the hearts of oppressed people of India and Pakistan.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

I Heal The Unquiet Spirit

I see spirits everywhere
In the trees, the night sky
Spirits flashing by
Of those once held dear
And always, near.
~Naseer Ahmad
Arriving in London in 1950 I was surrounded by the spirits of 000's of people who died in the Blitz during WWII.
Tokyo, 1953, the 00,000's who died in Tokyo during American bombing raids and another million killed in Korea by US bombers based in Japan.
Spirits (those who have passed and those still attached to bodies :) are drawn to me for healing; this is what I do.
Over the years I have done a lot of exorcisms, cases of demonic possession (the other side of mental illness) battle of angels vs demons in the heavens, a war for the soul of humanity (which I've written about in hundreds of articles in this blog and countless places elsewhere on social media. I teach, but if people can't learn or change, I move on, as I am too sensitive to be anything but neutral).
Except when it affects my family.

I recently became aware of something I'd sensed but finally confirmed.
We went to Hungary in 1996, to visit my wife's family Travels With Agnes

While there I healed a great many people, but also broke many eggs.
Staying with her maternal grandmother, we noticed she was being neglected by her son. She had a fruit/vegetable garden and chickens, but he took the produce and eggs for his own family's use and left her with the bare minimum. Also intercepted the post man with her pension check every month and held on to her bank pass book.

I encouraged Agnes to go to the bank and confront her uncle. He got all defensive and promised to look after his mom better. While there I gave him two healing treatments and noted he had a heart condition. My diagnosis was based on an imbalance within his heart chakra which as it turned out had to do with hurt feelings in his relationship with his mom.

When you have an imbalance in one chakra you try to compensate by imbalances in other areas of your life, here in accumulating material goods. He also took over the estate of another relative who owned a villa overlooking the Danube worth millions by getting the surviving relatives to sign over their interest by lying about the government's intention to take over the property.

He was so threatened by fear of exposure he told everyone we were trying to take over his mom's bank account!

He passed away last year from heart failure, but Agnes only recently was told the extent of the negativity he had directed at her. Even her own cousin was turned against her. When you sense something, but do not know, the hurt can be much worse.

His spirit came to us filled with remorse. You can only heal the unquiet spirit, and let it go. But this isn't about his actions in life, it's the effect on the living. We carry generations of karmic damage within us, and it's up to us to heal ourselves, and not pass it on. Or we come back, and repeat the messes we make, and the lessons unlearned.


Sunday, July 22, 2018

Peace breaks out in Korea?

That act was this: In the early 1950s, during the Korean War, the US dropped more bombs on North Korea than it had dropped in the entire Pacific theater during World War II. This carpet bombing, which included 32,000 tons of napalm, often deliberately targeted civilian as well as military targets, devastating the country far beyond what was necessary to fight the war. Whole cities were destroyed, with many thousands (estimated: hundreds of thousands) of innocent civilians killed and many more left homeless and hungry.

“Massacre in Korea” by Pablo Picasso, 1951
An excellent history and resource guide from the "United States Foreign Policy" site. I hadn't realized that Picasso did a painting to match his more famous "Guernica" one-guess Americans don't recognize their inner Nazi.

Seoul Winter Olympics 2018~The Unified Korea flag.
I'd been in a deep and dark place since 2014, but this picture and the events leading up to the Winter Olympics, and after, moved me more than anything else.
From an article I wrote in 2014 Why? 
Everything happens for a reason.
April is the longest month.
Tomorrow, April 23, will be a very difficult day, as a Jupiter Mars Pluto Uranus Grand Cross becomes exact at 13 degrees of the cardinal signs, affecting people and countries ruled by Capricorn, Aries, Cancer and Libra. (The US, which I have had my eye on for some time, is ruled by Cancer. Some say the Russian Federation is ruled by Capricorn)
This aspect was felt for more than a month now, and will be felt, with waning aspects in the month to come. There will be great changes all over, and how and when it affects you, depends on the choices you make.
It referenced the Jeju Island ferry disaster of April 16, 2014 (read the article please) but also the changes to come in America and Russia. Little did I know of the changes to come in me personally since that time (I'm a Capricorn, LOL and ahem) and the whole, connected to Korea.
Yes, I'm a pedantic history and foreign policy wonk but my focus has always been spiritual so this is the pen I'm writing with. I must say, who knew the events that would come to finally, hopefully, lead to peace in Korea, and then the world? Never mind the hatred many feel for Trump; I applaud his summits in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (a fellow Capricorn :) then Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki later this year. I will always advocate and hope for peace even as I see the world being possessed by demons, sorry. Love and the spiritual are the only answers.

Oddly, it was a Republican president-nominee, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who visited Korea in 1952
1952 Eisenhower goes to Korea then as president made good his campaign promise by signing an armistice with China and Korea. The Democrats had wanted to continue the war-the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Oddly, it was the brilliant Seven Days In May movie (1964) by John Frankenheimer that showed an American president who signed a peace treaty with Russia then when the senate ratified it American power structures conspired to stage a coup against him. Given the levels of anger against Trump meeting Putin, I wonder if moves against him constitute a coup against a duly elected president?

Finally, it was the Korean people themselves, who demanded an end to the conflict and removed the corrupt South Korean presidents Park Geun-hye and Chun Doo-hwan (who massacred thousands of protestors in the 1980 Gwangju Uprising) who made this possible, not the US. Even then, it was touch and go as military leaders planned a possible coup to keep the president in power
Did South Korea army plot coup to keep ousted leader in power?

Yes, changes are taking place, both world-wide and personally, but as I've said before my perspective has always been we must go through a cleansing fire before we can be reborn.
I wish you all, peace, love and joy.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Vulture Speaks

I have an affinity with birds
The strangest thing happened this Thursday October 12. Our house is a magnet for wild life but this time, a rook of Turkey Vultures landed in our backyard, which we'd never seen before. They were magnificent.
My first thought was someone's dead. (Vultures are associated with death) When an aunt passed away a few years back a dove had crashed in our window-see Message From A Dove Later in the day, received a note that a friend had died suddenly in Florida. He was only 41. So I was inspired to write about it.
But my message is a continuation of an earlier article A Bird Came For Healing when an ill American Bittern flew into our yard and I helped it get better.
We all have a passion for learning, and the freedom to follow our path.
And my friend C. who at her wedding near Hamilton a Turkey Vulture got caught in a tree and I helped release it.
The message is, follow your path, and do not let anger, fears or emotions hold you back.
And, this is about the imbalance between earth and spirit.  
When birds appear they are always messages from spirit
 So everyone who was there at the wedding, followed our paths.

Vultures are sacred birds in many cultures, Egypt, Sumer, Çatal Hüyük The Vulture As Totem
In the 1950's the husband/wife archaelogist/anthropologist team of Ralph and Rose Solecki began excavating a cave site 250 miles north of Baghdad along a tributary of the Tigris River called the Greater Zab that rises out of the Turkey-Kurdistan border area. The cave had been used for burials by an ancient tribal people called the Zawi Chami around 8870 BCE (plus or minus 300 years, according to carbon-dating) --over 10,000 years ago-- which is well over 4,000 years before the beginnings of any of the various cultures mentioned above. In their dig the Soleckis found a number of wing bones of large predatory birds, which turned out to be Gyptaeus barbatus (the bearded vulture) and Gyps fulvus (the griffon vulture).
That very same overall innate nature imbeded in the actions and life of the vulture, never killing or hurting a living thing or its own fellow creatures, is reflected for the most part, in and by the the actions and life of the person that truly has the vulture as a totem animal. 
And my daughter had a dream where she was speaking words of power in Assyrian, from that same location.

This message wasn't about the person who passed away, but was for me. Still, I did have a feeling of sadness when I first met him. This was possibly his last comment, October 08, 2017:

Shamans are a bridge between earth and spirit, so Vulture was a message for me. For the restless spirit, to help ease its passing. For me, to keep following that path, which now looks like there will be changes coming anyway.
I look at the nature of Scorpio. It can be about death, and maybe we need to die or in some way, let go. For me, it is about regeneration. The countless deaths that have taken place was just to let us know we cannot continue in this way. There will always be sadness, but we must change. All these calls for "resistance" are just illusion, designed to keep us spinning wheels.
The path to change is to look after our bodies, our feelings, our spirit. Perhaps, this is the message that Vulture brings to you.

Friday, October 06, 2017

The Valor of Soldiers in Combat-Arakan, Burma, WWII

From A HILL CALLED MELROSE --WW2 in Burma.......A true story....

"May I have a light?" I looked up to see a Japanese – more or less my age – with an unlit cigarette in his hand. I reached for my lighter. He lit up. We were on a train travelling from Berne to Geneva in the autumn of 1980. “Indian?” he asked. “Yes” I replied. We got talking. He was an official in the UN and was returning to home and headquarters at Geneva. I was scheduled to lecture at the university. We chit-chatted for a while; he gave me some useful tips on what to see and where to eat in the city. Then, having exhausted the store of ‘safely tradable information’, we fell silent. I retrieved my book – ‘Defeat into Victory’, an account of the Second World War in Burma by Field Marshal William Slim. He opened the newspaper. We travelled in silence. After a while he asked “Are you a professor of Military History?” “No” I replied- “just interested. My father was in Burma during the war”. “Mine too” he said.

In December 1941, Japan invaded Burma and opened the longest land campaign of the entire war for Britain. There were two reasons for the Japanese invasion. First, cutting the overland supply route to China via the Burma Road would deprive Chiang Kai Sheik’s Nationalist Chinese armies of military equipment and pave the way for the conquest of China. Second, possession of Burma would position them at the doorway to India, where they believed a general insurrection would be triggered against the British once their troops established themselves within reach of Calcutta. Entering Burma from Thailand, the Japanese quickly captured Rangoon in 1942, cut off the Burma Road at source and deprived the Chinese of their only convenient supply base and port of entry. Winning battle after battle, they forced the allied forces to retreat into India. The situation was bleak. The British were heavily committed to the war in Europe and lacked the resources and organisation to recapture Burma. However, by1943 they got their act together. The High Command was overhauled; Wavell was replaced by Mountbatten and operational control was given to General William Slim, a brilliant officer. Slim imbued his men with a new spirit, rebuilt morale and forged the famous 14th Army, an efficient combat force made up of British, Indians and Africans. The Japanese, aware that the defenders were gathering strength, resolved to end the campaign with a bold thrust into India and a simultaneous attack in the Arakan in Burma.

In the ebb and flow of these large events chronicled in Military History, my father, a soldier, played a part – first in Kohima in clearing the Japanese from the Naga Hills, then in Imphal and finally in the deeply forested mountains of Arakan. Destiny took him there. In the blinding rain of the monsoons in 1943, the Supreme Allied Commander’s plane landed at Maugdow where the All-India Brigade of which his regiment was a part was headquartered. Mountbatten was accompanied by his Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Browning, who had been my father’s Adjutant at the Royal Military College in Sandhurst. He and the two other Indian commanders – Thimayya and Sen - were introduced to Mountbatten who made casual but searching enquiries regarding their war experience. Thereafter he was closeted in the ‘conference tent’ with the senior commanders for a long time. As they came out he turned to Reggie Hutton, the Brigade commander and said, “All right Reggie let your All-Indian Brigade do it. But, by God, it is going to be tough”. Then turning to the three of them he said, “Gentlemen, the Japanese are pulling out of upper Burma. You have been selected to intercept their withdrawal from there into the South. You will concentrate at Akyab, proceed to Myebon by sea, capture Kangaw, penetrate Japanese-held territory and convert the Japanese retreat into a rout. Is that clear?” It was.

My Japanese friend who had been listening intently leaned forward and asked “Did you say your father was in the All India Brigade?” “Yes”, I replied. Our conversation paused for a while as the waiter served coffee and croissants. Later, picking up the threads he persisted “Was he a junior officer at the time?” “Not really” I replied. “He was a Battalion commander”. He digested the information and said “Which regiment?” “The Punjab Regiment” I replied. His face turned colour. Maybe it was a play of light and shade or maybe it was just my imagination but I thought he was going to be ill. “Are you okay?” I queried? He nodded. “Please carry on”.

After marching through hostile territory, the brigade finally landed at Myebon. Their dis-embarkation was not opposed. They proceeded to Kangaw little knowing that forty-eight hours later they would be locked in a battle which was to last for a fortnight and claim the lives of three thousand men.

Mountbatten had been right. The withdrawal route of the Japanese was dominated by ‘Hill Feature 170; Melrose. It was firmly held by the Japanese and gave them the enormous advantage of having the ‘commanding heights’. Worse, intelligence reported that they had two brigades. The Indians had one. Brigadier Hutton realised that if the withdrawal had to be cut, the hills would have to be captured irrespective of the numerical disadvantage. He took the call. The first attack by the Hyderabadis under Thimayya mauled the enemy but did not achieve the objective. The second by the Baluchis under Sen met a similar fate. It was then that ‘Reggie’ asked the Punjabis to make a final effort. Artillery and air support was coordinated. The zero hour for the attack was set at 0700 hours on 29 January 1944. At dawn as the leading companies moved forward, the Japanese opened machine gun fire. The Artillery provided cover and laid out a smoke screen. The Punjabis began to climb the hill. Safe from amongst well dug bunkers the Japanese rained fire on them. The Indian casualties mounted as men began to drop. The air cover which was a key part of the plan failed to materialise - bad weather and bad luck. Taking a calculated risk, the commander pushed on. They were hardly a hundred yards from the top when the Japanese threw everything they had at them. In the face of such unrestrained fierceness, the advance faltered hovering uncertainly on the edge of stopping. For the commander, it was the moment of truth – to fight or flee? As he saw his men being mowed down by machine gun fire a rage erupted within him. Throwing caution to the winds he ran forward to be with them. The scales ‘tipped’. The troops rallied, ‘fixed bayonets’ and charged into the Japanese with obscenities and primeval war cries. A fierce hand to hand combat ensued. Neither side took or gave a quarter. The Japanese fought like tigers at bay. The conflict went on unabated through the night. The Japanese counter-attacked in wave after wave but the Indian line held firm. Then the last bullet was fired and there was silence.

Many years later Mountbatten would describe what took place as “The bloodiest battle of the Arakan” and correctly so. The price of victory was two thousand Japanese and eight hundred Indians dead in the course of a single encounter. Fifty officers and men would win awards for gallantry. The battalion commander would be decorated with the DSO for ‘unflinching devotion to duty and personal bravery’. But all that was to happen in the future.

At that particular moment on the field of battle, the commander was looking at the Japanese soldiers who had been taken prisoners of war. They had assembled as soldiers do, neatly and in order. On seeing the Indian Colonel, their commander called his men to attention, stepped forward, saluted, unbuckled his sword, held it in both hands and bowed. The Indian was surprised to see that his face was streaked with tears. He understood the pain of defeat but why the tears? After all, this was war. One or the other side had to lose. How could the Japanese explain to the Indian that the tears were not of grief but of shame? How could he make him understand what it meant to be a Samurai? Given a choice he himself would have preferred the nobler course of Hara Keri than surrender. But fate had willed otherwise. The ancestral sword in his hands had been carried with pride by his forefathers. Now he was shaming them by handing it over. All this was unknown – unknowable - to the Indian commander. He came from a different culture and had no knowledge of what was going on in the mind of his adversary. Yet there was something in the manner and bearing of the officer in front of him which touched him deeply. He found himself moved. Without being told he somehow intuited that the moment on hand was not merely solemn but personal and deeply sacred. He accepted the sword and then inexplicably, impelled by an emotion which perhaps only a soldier can feel for a worthy opponent, bent forward and said clearly and loudly in the hearing of all “Colonel I accept the surrender but I receive your sword not as a token of defeat but as a gift from one soldier to another”. The Japanese least expecting this response looked up startled. The light bouncing from the tears on his cheeks, reflected an unspoken gratitude for the Indian’s remark. Coming as it did from the heart, it had touched his men and redeemed their – and his – honour. The Punjabis – Hindus and Muslims - who had gathered around also nodded in appreciation. Battle was battle. When it was on, they had fought each other with all their strength. And now that it was over there was no personal or national animosity. Maybe the Gods who look after soldiers are different from those who look after other mortals for they bind them in strange webs of understanding and common codes of honour no matter which flags they fly.

The moment passed. He looked at the Signal Officer and nodded. The success signal was fired. Far away in the jungles below, Brigadier Reggie Hutton looked at the three red lights in the sky and smiled. His faith in his commanders had been vindicated. He would later explain that at stake that night was not only the battle objective but the larger issue as to whether Indians ‘had it in them’ to lead men in war. There had been sceptics who felt that his faith was misplaced. He looked at Melrose and smiled. Its capture had vindicated his faith.

I looked out of the window lost in my thoughts. Suddenly I heard a sob to find that my Japanese friend had broken down. He swayed from side to side. His eyes were closed and it was clear that he was in the grip of an emotion more powerful than himself. He kept saying ‘karma, karma’ and talking to himself in his own language. After a while he looked up with eyes full of tears and holding both my hands said in a voice choked with emotion, “It was my father who gave battle to yours on Melrose. It was he who surrendered. Had your father not understood the depth of his feelings, he would have come back and died of shame. But in accepting our ancestral sword in the manner that he did, he restored honour to our family and my father to me. That makes us brothers – you and I.

The train pulled into Geneva station. We got down. What had to be said had already been spoken. He bowed. Goodbye I said. Keep in touch. Incidentally, would you like me to restore the sword back to your family. He smiled, looked at me and said “Certainly not. The sword already rests in the house of a Samurai”.

That was the last I saw of him.

Usha tells me that the probability of our meeting defies statistics. She should know. She studied economics and statistics. There was a World war going on. Good. My father was in the Indian army; his father was in the Japanese army; perfectly okay. They fought in the same theatre of war – Burma; understandable. They fought in the same battle; difficult but believable. The war finished, they went back to their families; plausible. But that their sons grew up in two different lands, happened to go to Berne at the same time, board the same train, get into the same compartment, share coffee and cigarettes, have a conversation on something that had happened four decades ago, discover their fathers had fought on opposite sides in the same battle – that undoubtedly is insane.

Personally, I do not believe that there are outcomes in life which are necessarily bound to happen?Yet, sometimes I am not so sure. You can never connect events by looking into the future; you can only connect them by looking at the past. Maybe it is comforting to believe that because the dots connect backward, they will connect forward also. I don’t know. Perhaps in the end, you have to trust in something. The sword has a pride of place in our home. Whenever I see it, my mind goes back to the jungles of Arakan where in the midst of the madness of war, two soldiers were able to touch each other and their compatriots with lasting humanity

By Dr Yashwant Thorat, son of Lt Gen SPP Thorat KC DSO.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Memories of Catalunya

Barcelona, 1936
The people of Catalonia will vote October 01, 2017 in a referendum to decide if they want to secede from Spain. Catalonia's High Court and Spain's Constitutional Court have already declared the referendum illegal. The minority right wing government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has seized millions of ballots and moved troops and Gardia Civil  police to prevent the vote, and hundreds of thousands of Catalans have taken to the streets to defend their right to self determination. How did it come to this?
The Catalan Revolt
Originally a principality within Aragon, it lost its independence during the war of Spanish Succession in the 18th century, though Catalan Nationalism resurged in the mid 19th century with the promoting of their language and culture. But the Catalan Revolt goes back a lot further; its political tradition of independence The rebellious nature of Catalans has been noted since 1285.
Catalonia was awarded limited autonomy in 1931 by the Socialist Government of Spain but there still was unrest. The right won back government in 1933 and the Catalan Independence Declaration of 1934 was defeated by troops and autonomy suspended. This, and the Asturias miner's strike led to the Spanish Civil War of 1936-38. Spanish dictator Francisco Franco imposed a new constitution depriving Catalonia of autonomy though it continued to agitate, driven by its 'rebellious nature' perhaps?
The present drive for autonomy:
The October 1 vote is the culmination of a fallout between Barcelona and Madrid that started in 2003, when Catalonia sought a deal to increase autonomy — and failed.
Even though separatist parties were elected to the regional parliament and tried to negotiate greater autonomy on terms of language and finance, the central government and Constitutional Court, perhaps not acting in good faith, watered down and rejected almost all the proposals. When the final decision was handed down in 2010, a million people protested in Barcelona "We are a nation, we decide!".

With each request for negotiation being denied the movement for an independence referendum grows. The central government is caught conspiring with news agencies to discredit separatist officials.

Final clash: September 06, 2017
The Catalan parliament passes a referendum law and the regional government formally calls the October 1 referendum on secession from Spain. The parliament also passes a law that would regulate the transition to independence if there was a Yes vote. Madrid's central government says these laws represent the "death of democracy" and brings them to the Constitutional Court, which calls for an immediate suspension. The Socialists and Ciudadanos support Rajoy's call to stop the vote.
This is where we're at now. What next, after October 01? Funny, but I wrote a chapter in my book
Man From Atlan and it's called The Man Of Spain-1936 A.D.

You can read it here

The Man of Spain Part I
The Man of Spain Part II

It's a work of fiction, it's a true story of my past life in Catalonia. It's not a story about politics though set in the background of the Spanish Civil War, it's a love story about a man who avoids war but is forced again and again, to fight for his ideals. Some excerpts:
The Bull had always been there in the field that he passed by on his way to school. He remembered the first day. He had looked into the field and saw far away the proud black figure of the Bull. "Ay, Toro," he whispered and knew the Bull heard him. He had seen it there every day for many years, and always it was the same as on the first day. He was as it was and one day he would fight it.
The father looked at him sadly, knowing that his son was set on becoming a matador. "I had hoped you would be a doctor." 
"Why a doctor?" 
"Because this is what Catalonia needs. It is growing so fast, and already people are realizing how much we're lacking in the people we need. Scientists, engineers, doctors. Soon we will need them even more." 
"Because one day we will be independent." 
From then on, they talked often about the politics and history of Catalonia. Rapidly becoming one of the most industrialized areas in Spain, Catalonia resented the tariffs the other more influential provinces were putting on their products, so that it was at a disadvantage. The Catalans had always felt different from the rest of the Spanish peoples and for many years agitated for a separate homeland. Its industrial base, its trade unions and political parties were lifting its people out from the poverty which was still rife in the rest of Spain. It was a problem to the government in Madrid. 
Yet because it was a problem which hadn't been solved for so long, the extremists were coming to the fore. Political murders were being committed almost every day in Barcelona, the capital. There were moderate people like his father who wanted Catalonia to have more independence but still be a part of Spain. Yet, they had been crushed so many times whenever they agitated for freedom for Catalonia that the moderates and the militants together planned for a time when Catalonia could declare its independence. 
These were things which meant everything to the people of Catalonia, yet his father could see they meant nothing to him. His son wanted to be a matador, so let it run its course and in time it would die, as did all the dreams of children. 
He knew it would not, for he saw the Bull waiting for him.  
 Read the rest; it's a lovely story I think. It was a glorious time, fighting for a good cause, not "Independence" but people who resisted fascism. No, I wasn't too fond of the communists and anarchists who splintered the Spanish loyalists but it's a wonderful memory, still.

The picture above? 17 year old Marina Ginestà.
Marina Ginestà - obituary
Marina Ginestà, who has died aged 94, was believed to have been the last surviving French veteran of the Spanish Civil War. As a 17-year-old member of Spain’s Unified Socialist Youth she was immortalised in a photograph taken on the roof of the Hotel Colón in Barcelona in the first flames of the conflict; it was to become one of the most famous photographs of the war.

What next for Spain?

Looking at its national horoscope, I don't see independence for Catalonia but Spain will suffer in its association with other regions and with Europe. There will be continued unrest as people demand an end to austerity policies and its economy takes several hits. There will be continued repression, and while I don't think people really wanted to be independent, just a greater autonomy within Spain, the central government's heavy response can only make people more willing to split with it.

A final word from:

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner
GENEVA (28 September 2017) - UN experts* have called on the Spanish authorities to ensure that measures taken ahead of the Catalan referendum on 1 October do not interfere with the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, and public participation.
And there you have it. Maybe Catalonia does not have a constitutional right to secede. But the government's actions have been an appalling violation of human rights. I wish the people of Spain, and Catalonia, well.