Saturday, August 25, 2012

Congratulations to Shadab Rasool, But We Have A Few Questions, Please

Congratulations to Shadab Rasool, But We Have A Few Questions, Please

These days, any news from Pakistan almost invariably involves body counts.  In the current atmosphere of despair even the tiniest of good news from that godforsaken country is celebrated and cherished.  With that appetite for positive news from Pakistan, the report of a Pakistani high-schooler from Khairpur, Shadab Rasool, winning a silver medal in a science fair in New York, was received with pride.  As always, the Pakistani media had some terrible reporting of the news and it was hard to tell what new technology was invented by Shadab Rasool.  The best piece—with some explanation of Rasool’s technology—was written by Mithal Khuhro and Sameer Mandhoro, for the Express Tribune.
But even Khuhro and Mandhoro’s report relied too much on the information obtained from Shadab Rasool himself.  So we decided to do our own investigative journalism and get to further details.  As it normally happens the investigation did provide more details, but it also generated a few questions.  Here are the questions and we hope someone would be able to answer them for everyone’s benefit.

Is Shadab Rasool also known as Usama Khan?  [We find Usama Khan’s name announced here: 00:36, at the Genius Olympiad award ceremony.]  Also, at, which is a list of the finalist teams (248 out of 657 participating teams), Team 609, for the project title ‘Get the pollutants out: Removal of harmful pollutants from industrial waste water by tea waste,’ lists Usama Khan and K. Baloch as the team members.  [A second team from Pakistan, Team 174, for the project title ‘Detoxification of heavy metal contaminated soils by using a new phytoremediation method’, had Abdul Daim and Wajid Waheed as the two team members.  That team won the ‘Honorable Mention’ award.  See that team at 14:00, in the video at]

In this TV report,
the reporter claims the ‘US Government’ has given a scholarship of $250,000 to Shadab Rasool.  First, Genius Olympiad, is organized by the State University of New York at Oswego and the Terra Science and Education Foundation, and NOT by the ‘US Government.’  Secondly, it does not appear any cash award is given in this high school project competition.
[In fact, contestants have to bear their own travel expenses, to reach to the contest in New York.]

And lastly, we would like to review Shadab Rasool’s project in further detail to understand the originality of his technology.  [The Internet seems to be dripping with ‘tea waste’ technologies invented to fight industrial pollution.  For example, see this 2010 paper

by the Chinese researchers, on ‘Biosorption of heavy metals from solution by tea waste.’]

Photo, courtesy of

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Alcohol imbued Poetry: Remembering Jigar Muradabadi

July 15, 2012

Alcohol imbued Poetry: Remembering Jigar Muradabadi

From lofty to humble, Urdu poets have used creative noms de plume to describe themselves, but it is not common for them to use body organs as poetic names.  Heart (dil), liver (jigar), and gallbladder (pitta) have their uses in the Urdu language—for example, good friends are known as jigri-doast (liver friends)—but Jigar Muradabadi (born Shaikh Mohammad Ali Sikandar, in 1890) was the first one to underscore the importance of a vital organ by using it as his pen name.  A literary evening dubbed Soz-e-Jigar arranged to remember the life and work of Jigar Muradabadi was held at the India Community Center on July 15.

The program was presided over by Ms. Vijay Nigam, daughter of Farhat Kanpuri (Gangadhar Nath Nigam), and emceed by Bay Area Urdu teacher Hamida Banu Chopra.   Several Urdu lovers read Jigar’s poetry in the program.

Amjad Noorani an advisor to The Citizens Foundation (TCF), USA, a non-profit organization working for the education of underprivileged children in Pakistan, recited two ghazals: ‘Kam Aakhir jazba e bay ikhtiyar aa hee gaya’ and ‘Ishq ko bay naqab hona thaa.’

Anshuman Chandra, an accomplished musician and one-half of the Bay Area band SaazMantra, sang Jigar’s ‘Jahle khirad nay din wuh dikhay’ and ‘Ik lafz e muhabbat ka adna yeh fasa.’

Almas Hameed Shabvani, a local singer, recited ‘Har su dikhai daitayN haiN who jalwah gar mujhay.’

Alka Hingorani, a former student of Hamida Chopra, read Jigar’s ghazal ‘Isee chaman main hee hamara bhee aik zamana thaa’ and the poem ‘Tajdeed-e-Mulaqat.’

Hamida Chopra read Jigar’s politically motivated poetry from her school days: Kabhi shakh o sabz o barg per, kabhi guncha o gul o khar per//Mein chaman meiN chahay jahaN rahooN, mera haq hai fasl e bahar per.

U.V. Ravindra, a poet who uses Khurshid as his pseudonym, read Jigar’s two ghazals: ‘Oas paray bahar per, aag lagay kinar meiN’ and ‘Dunya kay sitam yad na apnee hee wafa yad.’

Anil Chopra, professor of civil engineering at the UC, Berkeley, read assorted couplets from Jigar’s poetry, including ‘Shikast-e-Tauba’ written on the relapse of alcoholism.

Ashraf Habibullah, the main sponsor of the program, is a connoisseur of art and poetry.  As a speaker he is a wonderful entertainer.  Ashraf came to the Soz-e-Jigar mehfil with his custom-made jacket studded with LED lights; he recited Jigar’s ‘Shaer fitrat  hooN meiN jab fikr fermata hooN meiN.’

Bombay music composer of ghazals, Ravi Date, read Jigar’s ‘Fikr manzil hay na hosh e jadeh e manzil mujhay’ and ‘Tum iss dila e wahshee kee wafaoN peh na jana.’

Hamida Chopra read a paper on Jigar Muradabadi recounting Jigar’s life and his association with Asghar Gondvi.  Chopra also described Jigar’s alcoholism and said Jigar considered adding water or soda to his alcohol, shirk (a sin in Islam involving the worship of another deity, along with Allah).

Vijay Nigam remembered Jigar Muradabadi as his father’s friend who considered her his own daughter and kept paying her visits even after Nigam’s father passed away.  Nigam described Jigar’s visits to be very short, meant to assure her of his support to her—the tonga (horse-carriage) he would ride to her home would wait outside, Jigar Sahib would just come in, ask Nigam’s well-being, put his hand on her head and would leave right away.  Nigam said Jigar’s kindness left a lasting impression on her.

Anupama Chandratreya has that rare quality in her voice that makes the poetry she sings, sink in your head.  The Soz-e-Jigar program started and ended with Anupama Chandratreya’s recitation of Jigar’s poetry (Jalwa baqdr e zarf e nazar dekhtay rahay and Tabiyat inn dinoN baigana-e gham hotee jaatee hai).

Why do over one hundred people regularly convene at these literary meetings, arranged every three to four months by Hamida Banu Chopra and her group, even when no new literary work is presented in these gatherings?  The answer is simple: the names are big, the poetry is familiar, and the regulars get a kick out of the active participation in such literary events.

Listen to the audio recording of the program here:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Kashmiris Losing Hope in Nonviolence: Yasin Malik

June 21, 2012

Kashmiris Losing Hope in Nonviolence: Yasin Malik

Why would a group of people wish to secede from a democratic setup?  Isn’t democracy, a rule ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’, the best form of government?  No, not quite.  Groups of people may seek secession from a democracy when a democratic rule has been imposed upon them, and especially when the democratic rule is merely a continuation of the colonial era setup, forcefully bringing together regions without obtaining the consent of people living there.  Sixty five years after gaining independence from Britain, regions and peoples of South Asia are still struggling to find political setups best suited for their needs.  Kashmir, South Asia’s connection with the Central Asia, is one such region.  Struggle for an independent Kashmir has seen ups and downs in the last sixty five years.  The violent days of the 90s are gone, but a desire for independence is still a reality in the Kashmir valley.  Many Kashmiri leaders based in the West believe the West and especially the US can help them see the light of independence.  US-based Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai is one of them.  But whereas Fai may consider himself just an activist fighting for the rights of his people, in the post 911 United States he is a Muslim whose activities are closely watched by the Big Brother.  Emboldened by legislation that gives carte blanche powers to law enforcement agencies in the name of national security, undercover agents, eager to prove their performance to superiors and patriotism to America, are gung ho about arresting the ‘Muslim terrorists.’  In this era of neo-McCarthyism, entrapment, if it involves ‘Muslim terrorists’—or, lately, the ‘occupy movement’ activists-- is very much condoned by the larger society and the courts.   We see the FBI agents regularly frequenting mosques, exhorting people to do jihad, making ‘terrorist plots’ for the feeble-minded they can recruit, supplying the dimwits with fake ammunition, and in the end arresting them for plotting terrorist activities.  Those who don’t get easily entrapped, get their lives and finances closely examined-- benign actors are implicated in tax evasion and building code violation cases; ‘despicable’ ones—ones with the beards—are humiliated through charges of prostitution and child pornography.  To cut a long story short, Ghulam Nabi Fai has been implicated in a tax evasion case and is scheduled for an imprisonment starting from June 26.  A conference on Kashmir dubbed “Right of Self-Determination for the People of Kashmir: A Reminder to US Policy Makers,”  hosted by Dr. Agha Saeed and others, held on June 21, gave Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai the last opportunity to address a public rally before the start of his incarceration.

Speaking at the conference, through Skype, Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front leader Yasin Malik said after suffering for generations Kashmiris started an armed struggle in 1988.  In 1994, the separatists laid down their arms after the international community and especially the US promised Yasin Malik and other Kashmiri leaders of their help in the resolution of the Kashmir issue if the Kashmiris would turn their struggle into a nonviolent movement.  Malik said the unilateral ceasefire of 1994 was a very unpopular decision.   He said several of his colleagues have been killed by India, and he too was arrested over 200 times after the Kashmiris voluntarily chose the path of nonviolence.  Malik said in 2003 he collected over 1.5 million signatures on a petition and presented the document to both the Indian Prime Minister ManMohan Singh and the then president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf.   He said millions of Kashmiris have taken part in peaceful marches that have been largely ignored by the international community.  He feared that Kashmiris are losing hope in peaceful protests and wondering if violence is the only way to bring attention to their cause.
Listen to Yasin Malik’s speech here:

Dr. Mohammad Siddiqui, brother of Aafia Siddiqui, and Raja Asad Ali khan, a Pakistani journalist also addressed the audience through Skype.

Mark Hinkle, an American libertarian activist, said that one of the tragedies that came out of the 911 attacks--besides the death of three thousand people--was the wholesale violation of rights of the Americans.  He said Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi, and Osama Bin Laden were all funded by the US government.  Hinkle advocated a non-interventionist US foreign policy.
Listen to Mark Hinkle’s speech here:

Dr. Imtiaz khan, professor at the George Washington University said the Indian human rights abuses in Kashmir would put the Israelis to shame. He highlighted the case of Major Avtar Singh, a former Indian military officer, who shot his family members and then killed himself, in Selma, California, earlier this month—Khan implied that Avtar Singh’s suicide was an act of insanity stemming from psychological problems Indian military personnel deployed in Kashmir face.  Avtar Singh was accused of abducting and killing Kahsmiri human rights lawyer Jalil Andrabi, in 1996.  Dr. Khan also reminded the audience of the Kunan Poshpora mass rape case in which dozens of Indian soldiers raped over 50 women in the Kashmiri village of Kunan Poshpora.

Dr. Mohammad Ahmadullah Siddiqi, professor of journalism at the Western Illinois University, said as an Indian Muslim he wants to see his country strong and prosperous and wishes India to stop wasting resources in Kashmir.
Listen to Dr. Mohammad Ahmadullah Siddiqi’s speech here:

Edward Hasbrouck, a peace activist and author of “The Practical Nomad” said he looks forward to visiting an independent Kashmir one day.
Listen to Edward Hasbrouck’s speech here:

Hazem Kira read the position of the American Muslim Task Force, AMT, on Kashmir.
Listen to the AMT’s position on Kashmir here:

The text of the statement is here:

In his speech, Dr. Hatem Bazian, Chairman of the American Muslims for Palestine, said both Palestine and Kashmir entered the post-colonial era as entities still trapped in colonial setups.  Bazian said occupations are the most violent manifestations of structures of violence.
Listen to Hatem Bazian’s speech here:

Imam Zaid Shakir, co-founder of Zaytuna College, and Qadr Fai, Ghulam Nabi Fai’s wife, also spoke at the conference.

In his speech Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai said the unresolved Kashmir issue concerns not only the 17 million people of Kashmir, it affects 1.3 billion people of South Asia.  He spoke of the four important factors--the historical background, the ground reality, the Indian thinking, and the International understanding—of the Kashmir dispute.  Dr. Fai said Kashmir was never a part of India so ‘secession of Kashmir from India’ does not mean anything.
Listen to Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai’s speech here:

The Kashmir conference held at the Chandni Restaurant in Newark was emceed by Dr. Naeem Baig.

Puerto Rico’s Camuy, Tanzania’s Amboni and Balochistan’s LaHoot LaMakan

Puerto Rico’s Camuy, Tanzania’s Amboni and Balochistan’s LaHoot LaMakan

Unlike other caves that are left featureless after their creation through geological activity, limestone caves are adorned with needle-shaped formations known as stalactites and stalagmites.  The primitive man must have observed such caves with awe.  Entering such a cave one can imagine going in the mouth of a beast, with sharp upper jaw teeth.

The limestone caves are found throughout the world.  The ones I recently visited in Puerto Rico are a tourist attraction, earning around two million dollars a year to the government.  In Pakistan’s Balochistan, LaHoot LaMakan caves—around 60 miles out of Karachi—are a pilgrimage sight, with dubious stories about the spiritual nature of the caves, the stalactites, and the stalagmites growing every year.

The rotation of the earth works with the energy beaming from the sun to set the stage for water and wind to move and shape our natural world.  The formation of stalactites and stalagmites is easy to understand.  When rain falls on top of a cave made of limestone, the minerals get dissolved by the water.  As the aqueous solution drips from the cave’s roof, it makes cones of calcium carbonate—called stalactites--after the water is evaporated.  When the rate of evaporation is low the solution drips down on the floor and the evaporating water leaves a mound of minerals—this geological feature is known as a stalagmite.

Before we entered Parque de Las Cavernas del Rio Camuy of Puerto Rico, a national park associated with the limestone caves and the underground River Camuy flowing through them, we were educated through a movie.  The fragile nature of the caves was explained in great detail and the visitors were strongly requested to not touch the stalactites or stalagmites as they were nature’s work in progress, having reached the current stage in thousands of years.

Twenty years ago a visit to the limestone caves of LaHoot LaMakan was a completely different experience.   In that visit, my interest in geology was instantly put off by witnessing the wholesale desecration of the natural beauty of the LaHoot LaMakan caves.  We entered the main Lahoot LaMakaN cave through a narrow opening.  The floor was slippery with limestone slush under our feet.  Devotees were touching everything and most stalactites had lost their sharp ends.  A stalagmite now in the shape of a bigger glob connected with a thinner column was designated as the camel of Prophet Ayub, fossilized through a miracle.  Every geological feature was explained to be a beast transformed into a rock by holy men.  Black smoke rising from candles had already ruined many parts of cave’s roof.  Overall, it was painful to see a wonderful opportunity to make money from the tourist attraction of Lahoot LaMakaN limestone caves squandered by the local government.  In that visit I had also thought of the Amboni caves in Tanzania, visited a while back.  Even Tanzania had better economic acumen to preserve its wonderful limestone caves and generate income from them.