Even after thinking about doing something daily, one ends up doing it, achieving it, finishing it only in the head. In the head is good, as it creates enough compound interest in head but it is not good enough.
I have had ups and downs, and have been away from home for some time. I was in Kashmir when article 370 was taken off. I was one of the last person to have trekked the majestic Amarnath ji this year. Without any plan or any inclination to have wanted to do it but surrendering to flow of life is such it takes you along on the paths, and you would enjoy. I fell in love with the harmony of the few people who walked along, some saints barefoot, and two without a leg who finished approximately sixty kilometres in as many days as I did. Food, sweets, tea, love and the name of shiva.
But the feeling was erratic even then. Tents, people were leaving a month before. And many had already left. The way was completely empty of any pilgrim coming from the other side. Probably that also made it count. It was quiet and you walked with your own self, slowly, quietly.
Phone lines and internet was called off a day after I arrived back home in Srinagar. I couldn’t get time to make any arrangements of leaving as it had become intense to stay over. It was a very vulnerable time in the valley and who knows what is going on even now. It took me nine more days to come out of the valley. I found a punjabi driver from Jammu early in the morning almost ready to leave. It was a beautiful morning over Dal. You could see clouds gathering over the ancient waters and over the Mahadev hill. The way back was as tense. We were stopped numerous times even before Banihal came, because on the other side, you would not imagine how many trucks, cadres, were filling in the valley. Testing time for a government who had just arrived three weeks ago and even before anyone could have blinked on something as mammoth an article as 370, which had probably made Kashmiri’s, laddakhis, Pandits, Punjabis as special and as vulnerable of their identity for all these decades after independence.
I had worked myself as a researcher and teacher in the border villages, in the most gruesome winters and thus have an idea of how the minds of local authorities work in contention and sometimes not in harmony with the army. How people can never almost challenge the claims and information that these authorities gather.
Things are bound to change.
I am sitting in a mud room in the outskirts of Laddakh. Writing after so long on my blog even though I wrote it daily in my head. I hope I present myself daily. Because this blog is not for me. This is for you. And if you are reading this right now, you may let me know.
Two weeks have passed. Two weeks are to come. The nights have become colder. Laddakh has been very kind. It’s the land of awakening. I came here in 2007 on my bike when rivers still went through roads. And somebody then had told me the full form of Leh that I took seriously then but I have never forgotten it. Life Ends Here. Or it starts again.
I am working on my first photo book here. On the work that I did in Cambodia. I will share more news soon but before all that comes out, I will be hitting the road again. May be to Zanskar, or may be to meet my children again to the village I taught 8 years ago.
at the new comer
To zojila, to Leh, to Hanle, to tso moreri, to i don’t know what pass that came after hundred’s of horses ran to take left, we took towards sky- a concrete river bed on top of a conical mountain which went all afternoon. Many called it a road. Through a broken bridge, through the ditches connecting another ditch on the Yoga day. While laughing at others. While laughing atourselves. While stopping before every loop to the mountain up. The dancing carrier. The nostalgia of the petrol fumes over six days. As every bicycle left us behind. Our omni made it across the Rohtang. But always carry two people to push it through. We needed many only once.
First called is Svante, a little five year old sannyas aspirant, and subodhi, his mother. Ramakrishna tells him to shut his eyes which he does, instantly, with full obedience, tight and very still, the little pouches straining to do just right. His knees are held by two chubby-small intentful hands. We all look with breathless stillness surrounding an open rose as the little swami emerges, Love, Little Anando.
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Last seven days were work but nights kept leading me to the milk mountains. Full moon i.e the sharad purnima of October, kept revealing magic on one condition. That I must not close my eyes.
If I observe a graph of my inner self, it has been nothing less than hydrogen working its way towards the biggest star. Slowly but so intense, that being a writer becomes a curse because I cannot explain it.
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In Omkareshwar, a few years ago, on the banks of the river Narmada. A register found me; a life of a french yogi documented in images glued on its thin white pages. It was a real treat. Because they were not mere photographs, but codes, Sri Yantras, ancient symbols designated to regions, verses of socrates and most interestingly, it had the night sky. He was a singer, an illustrator. He may still be alive. And this is going to be our quest, together.
As it looked. A visual autobiography of a Yogi if i may say; and someone who loved and prayed to the mother Kali.
Ever since then, I had been imagining to work on this journey of a Photo book that has life of all the water in it. That can elevate one’s being; that over the years, has seen me in a quest to find Babaji. While it took me to many a gurus, their homes, ashrams, while walking in the forests or along the Indian rivers finding this elderly french Yogi.
Time is less.
In next two years, as i will travel, I will try to compile the conversations, old and new. And in front of you all. Because these are the most choicest ones that were held between a guru and a disciple. And a compilation for myself so that i know, and so that you as my family shall also know and may become the ones to see this book grow rightly as a universal messenger through Images, symbols and conversations.
I was on the road to Nashala. Trees had looped me in. I was high on it, on a curve as the sound started appearing in front as if it was my heart pulping. It happened in the night, somewhere in the forest.
Ramakrishna was naming someone: This will be your new name: Ma Deva Aikanta
Deva means divine, aikanta means aloneness. Self- knowledge is possible only in deep aloneness. Ordinarily whatever we know about ourselves is the opinion of others. They say “You are good” and we think we are good. They say “you are beautiful” and we think we are beautiful. They say you are bad or ugly . . . . . whatsoever people say about us we go on collecting. That becomes our self identity. It is utterly false because no one else can know you, can know who you are, except you yourself. Whatsoever they know are only aspects, and those aspects are very superficial. Whatsoever they know are only momentary moods; they cannot penetrate your center. Not even your lover can penetrate to the very core of your being. There you are utterly alone, and only there will you come to know who you are.
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If today is the first time you have arrived on The Road to Nara, you are heartily welcome ~ Namaste
And I will take this opportunity to introduce you to About meand importantly;
It was more difficult to reach here than i had thought. To an extent I was only one night away from leaving it all and going back home.
A whole day had gone in repairing Tyre and servicing this vehicle in Diskit, the same valley that hosted gypsies once, ancient travellers, porters coming from Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan carrying opium and other magic potions to the cold desert of Hunder; a stop that they still talk about as the Silk road. This was the ancient Silk route, and from here you either go up to Mongolia or find your way to the Tibetan plateau into China. I took to Baltistan.
“And had Turtuk not pulled me in this one time, I may not have ever gone there again”.
Because the aim was to meet my children, this little village of Love where I had set myself free ten years ago. It was this where I sensed, touched and ate freedom away from my own compulsive upbringing. That nest which I left to teach, kept becoming an example of what I would like to make of this world.
From 2010-11 Diary
Winters used to be the days of leisure. Without electricity, phone, or any other means of digital distraction, whole village used to sit outside under sun chirping, laughing, observing, talking, sunbathing and cooking for each other.
For when we arrived, there was nothing but happiness arriving in Turtuk. We got a heroes welcome yesterday. And it felt that there was nothing more intriguing, more important that had happened in the long barren history of this region than us, teachers arriving.
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Looking back, we were the empty pots waiting, wanting to be filled by the best means. And like most times, filling happened in the freezing cold of the night, at our home, granted to us by the village elders. ‘Teachers home’ became a community centre where each night someone or the other used to come carrying some gifts of love; apricots mostly, from their fields to sit with us and share tales of their own history, of this forbidden region.
One night an old, old man arrived. White long beard. And When he arrived other locals stood, gave him space. We also stood. He walked with a stick, kept smiling; we were told that he could hardly hear but was a renowned storyteller. It was night and electricity had just left. The kerosene lamplight was brought in, once his face was well lit, he started measuring words with great weight and precision, unfolding a tale that started with a popular amongst locals name, tera poodi or 13 chapatis. “In those days hardly anyone used to come to our villages. In winters it used to get so cold that we would never leave homes without our traditional fire pot kept under our clothes on our bellies. That age of cold has long gone, it is no cold anymore, ‘though we sat under our blankets with layers of clothes on us,’ he continued, it’s only a child’s play today! There were no roads and all ration, supplies used to come by air. The room was packed and quiet, hearing the old man’s tale about to start, and while in between sentences he was quiet, his hands could be seen shadow talking on the walls. Once I was sitting on the roof around noon looking at the sky, high up as the army helicopters were passing by making much noise, when one, two, three, four large Cans of may be fifty or hundred litre each, fell like fruits from the sky, in the field outside just in front of me. I hurriedly went down, without my shoes, no socks, I cut open the cans and the moment I smelled; my soul took me back to Rawalpindi, now in Pakistan. Nostalgia struck me. Face of my wife came standing in front like it was she who had sent it for me, all her love; all those decades ago when we had cows, and we used to drink their sweet milk, ate food with pure desi ghee. And here in my field after all these years I was blessed with four huge cans of pure desi cow ghee. I couldn’t help but stripped myself naked, I cut open all the cans, ate it as much as i could and later poured all that ghee on myself, I literally swam in it. Next day I called everyone from the village and we had a mass celebration, we prepared food, and god knows what happened that day, I ate the most Pudis a man had ever eaten till now, and since then everyone started calling me Tera Pudi Ka i.e 13 chapati baba. It was the last time my wife had done something for me. Even though I never saw her again, never heard from her ever since partition happened. For a while the silence filled the room”.
What happened that night baba? How come you were here, I asked. Someone shouted the question in his ear.
I had come here to buy apricots for my daughters wedding but god had some other plans. Overnight everything changed. The next morning as i got up, getting ready to leave, they said i cannot go anywhere, and ever since then I am here. We are here! And now you are here, looking at us, everybody laughed.
It was last time, he said, when i had looked to the sky thanking not the god but my wife. i knew it was her who had sent this all for me” 13 poodi baba was all teary eyed for a while, all quiet even though our cook Abraham, standing beside him, blushing so hard that we had to ask, it was then learnt that 13 poodi baba was his grandfather. While leaving he blessed us each and was so happy and even proud that his son will be feeding us for six months to come. I was so mesmerised with the grandfather that I went to meet him the next day and photographed him at his home.
We had named our project ‘Teach to Learn’ but it seemed after the first, second, and third week that it wasn’t the education these children needed. No body was ever serious apart from handful of students, to an extent I had to learn many a sentences from their language to break the barrier, to be seen as even, but it felt that it was something else they were interested in. Of course they had not seen anyone like us, we were interacting, walking, laughing, sleeping on the banks of the river, taking classes outside, to an extent I had written a theatre play for the children to enact on the republic day of 26th January 2011. But these children were different in many ways, they seemed to have embodied the burden of a prolonged denial of any kind of fulfilment. They carried a strange kind of gloom, plain sadness under their peach like faces. We found many children who were psychologically ill whom no body ever tended to. Some were quiet and almost never responded. Some laughed abnormally. For first few weeks I was nothing but probably only a comedian whose actions could be understood but not the language because certainly I was different, we teachers looked different. And it was this understanding with which we opened our home for the students and anybody could come in the evening. But once that started, there came many other challenges.
We were slowly getting to know many things that could never be known to an outside visitor. There were problems in the village, and more than problems the village ran on rumours. Even in the village there was a section of people who was quietly opposing us. This education drive. Who were we? Why are we here? What purpose? The ones who never wanted any kind of education to happen or upliftment of their women were slowly conspiring against us. We would not know but 180 days later it would bring an almost bomb on us.
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I realised that amongst all teachers I was the most outgoing of them all. Meeting, talking, always walking with my camera, showing up and being seen all day long, that i had earned few children’s trust and they had made me their personal mentor. They started walking along with me from day to night that it became almost impossible for me to be alone. Hence I started getting up very early in the morning to go on walks, daily for an hour around the village before going to school. That was a liberating time as whole valley slept while I walked.
It was this one time while I was passing through a narrow lane to go to the next village, when my eyes fell on a dog standing abnormally still at the far end. Something felt not right. Ice like he stood. Eerily still. I was getting closer when I saw a nail, an iron nail was forced inside from the top of his head. It had made him unconscious. And from that nail, a thin wire had been wrapped. Two children were pulling it just so mildly, just to poke enough so that the dog must not go to sleep. But the dog had gone to some other sleep. It had broken his central nervous system. He was dead already, but breathing. I came heavily on children to explain what were they doing. They unapologetically exclaimed that he ate their chicken and that they will kill him. I yelled, that you have killed him already, he is dead. Now leave, go home!
That morning changed something in me, as somehow I had started to see the deep rooted violence seeped in the subconscious of this society. It was being lived collectively inside each one’s heart, erupting in various unexpected, unnerving forms.
It was a world living in a century of rocks and stones. And like the name of our Project ‘Teach to Learn’, we were learning not about the man more but about our own collective nature.
No one in the village had ever seen a train, or the sea, ever. The faces and the age lines of the old narrated untold, never spoken stories of the past. Stories rather have become these lines. Everybody yearned to talk, tales of their rich history that they were carrying for so long that its weight could be seen in their eyes sulking due to the biting cold.
Their hands like animal leather and fingers square from the tip. The silence here had a frustration that had thickened into a deep-rooted helplessness. The children had no future, majority of the newborn died due to unavailability of any medical station. There was no work apart from becoming a porter for the army, going to the highest posts risking their lives even more or taking up agriculture which had seen no improvement in last so many decades. Caught in a melancholic shuttling between a sorrow for the past and a longing for a better future, they needed education to change their lives.
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Yet, we made the most of our times with the children and similarly with the families. We made sure to pass the best of knowledge that we had. I will share something I had never spoken about but it was this one incident that changed my sight and had been growing me ever since.
We were in our third month of teaching and by now I had a certain sense of an understanding about which student is serious and which ones are not attentive enough to spend time on. As our each hour was important, we teachers had discussed to put our energies on, more so to build certain children who could carry on this change once we leave. There was this girl, who probably was the most quiet, unintelligent women in my class. Since my first class, many a times because of her I had to repeat many a lessons but even then she could not really answer me ever. It had made me dislike her to an extent that I had started being a little rude to her, as she would never speak. During that time, we were also in talks with the army to give us some books, old newspapers, supply us with kerosene, wood to warm class rooms and most importantly to give us sports materials. A week later when everything had arrived, we took out children to the ground to play basketball and later volley ball. And to not only my surprise but each teacher’s that girl came out to be by far the best athlete we would meet in Turtuk. It opened my eyes at least, my world to an extent that I have never in my teacher career since then overlooked a child.
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Realisations, Friendships and Habits
Living in Baltistan acted like a mirror to my consciousness. Because in whole valley, there was not a single mirror at any home. No one used it. And to not see oneself for six months, slowly, strangely helped in unknowing me, of what I had known till then of my physical self slowly started melting away to more important learnings. Somehow I also realised how important was that time, even in that freezing cold, when other teachers were keeping bottles in their sleeping bags for not even going to pee outside, or some to warm themselves, I made notes, I wrote almost each day, in the morning, evening, night, on the banks of the river, in school, on the roof of our home, I wrote. I never felt to use any hot water bottle to warm myself, nor to pee in my sleeping bag. But it was rather hard in other areas like food. I was probably the only vegetarian in whole valley at that time. May be apart from some Indian Army soldiers but I know I was the only kind there. Never in my entire life I had to explain myself this much, why. As it was almost daily at one or the other household who used to invite us felt compelled to make something different for me and well I obliged. I had no problem if they were finding ways to feed me.
Jain saab, one of the teacher there and I were once lying on the ground near the river. We were looking towards the sky, when he asked me, Narayan what color do you see the sky in? Surprised, I asked back, Jain saab, what color do you see it in? He said, Pink. He continued saying that sometimes some colours confuse him, that he had been wearing a pink jacket all winters thinking it was blue. And it was him who started the end of our days in Baltistan. Jain saab was a quirky fellow, and one would hardly come across a second person like him. May be we all were in our ways, who came to teach these children but he was more. Being a Jain, he would not eat meat- the one which was slaughtered and killed as meat but he had decided to eat whatever he might find already dead in the wild. On one of his excursions Jain saab found dead I-bex. An endangered animal in those areas, and which was sacred to the Baltis. He once brought it at our home secretly. Abraham denied to cook it, and even advised us not to, going against it one night other teachers decided to cook it. Baltis, as villagers were ancient dwellers, within hours some neighbours even arrived asking rather confirming that it is the gosht of an I-bex. It was a strange feeling which somehow just fell short of being sour as the next day those winter’s first snow changed each one’s eyes.
My first snowfall was again Life changing. I may still write it as one of the most beautiful day of my life. The harsh, cold brown earth vanished and every possible thing turned to white. Whole valley changed within hours. Our route to school became a skating way for the children. Out of unconfined happiness, we declared holiday after conducting the morning prayers, just to maintain the decorum. I even took a photograph of our school prayer for memory, just for myself so that i remember.
And once it was done, I left alone and walked, and walked for hours to other villages till the night fell. Photographing and writing all day long. Everything changed ever since the snow touched us. May be it opened us. It filled some color in us. We had forgotten about seasons, flowers, and shades.
That day freed something, may be it opened children towards us. Because somehow I almost felt that i didn’t know this landscape. And I wanted to know. But to know that part of the earth, I had to know the moon. And to know the moon I had to become friends with my students. The choicest ones. The ones who looked at me as if I was their only hope. The ones who lead me to newer lanes. The ones who would waited without a sound. Naseer and Sajjad. My favourite students. If my days became synonymous with the night, it was because of them. On the other edge of the village, where there was the graveyard, there was also a very old, small Buddhist monastery on the hill. No body used to go there as it was haram. There came those nights when I was waiting for the waxing moon period, every month for six months, I took them along with me, in the night looking at the barren mountain, seeing faces in them watching us walking, when all valley had slept long ago, these boys showed me magic.
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Today when i am here again, on the paths that are same but different i remember those children; few whom i met in my four hour stay in the village, I heard some unbelievable stories. Some good and some heart wrenching. Naseer, my favourite boy who walked with me since the day i set foot in this village, decided to hang himself a year after we had left. It was the saddest news, I had not anticipated something like this, and when i was the one who touched him, took him under my wing. It felt my failure. I was not prepared to hear this.
Hamida, The girl, who would never study but played her heart out that morning, turned out to be the one who would not marry, leave the village for a distant land. I learnt she was studying Psychology in Kashmir University, and does not want to come back.
Sajjad, my other favourite boy with Naseer, with whom we even made a film, Bongu with Rehmatuallah’s donkey, today is the only boy who is serving as an infantry in the Indian army. He was there when we arrived and stayed with me all along for those hours when i was there.
Abraham, our cook today runs his own restaurant. The moment he learnt i had come, he left everything, came to meet where i was and literally begged to come and have tea at his place. When i came, i told him i am hungry and would like to eat, he hesitated. As only snacks were available, but quietly he told someone to bring potato, tomato from the garden and he cooked the best food i have had from his hands again. I was so enamoured with so much meeting, looking, sharing that i forgot to take a selfie, i hardly do but photographed him cooking for me quietly.
I cannot tell you how my sleep was that night. But i slept well. Even it was only about Naseer whom i missed but when i met father, Hussein, i felt better because he probably had moved on already long back.
Even though it was a long drive back home, but it was the most fulfilling one. All my co-travellers, my Road to Nara family, who all travelled with me, i thank you for being the most important part of this sojourn. I leave now with some images of my closest moments, and favourite people here, from the road.
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The Wait of Baltistan and my story as a teacher went on to get published with numerous online and print magazines in India and internationally. It was also covered for the special edition of the Yale Journal Of International Affairs and anthropologic publishers like Visual EthnographyVE Journal. And won me the Best Photographer of the Year award in 2015, with Tasveer-Toto Funds the artist award in Bengaluru.
Bongu, went on to feature as the first ever Balti film and was screened at Dharamsala International Film Festival and Laddakh International Film Festival amongst many others.
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If you wish, you can buy a print of the photographs on this blog. It will be used to travel, and in between to buy something for the hungry.
Or else if you have something to share, or feel like saying a hello, please write to me at email@example.com
To visit other long-term photographic works, you can visithere.
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If today is the first time you have arrived on The Road to Nara, you are heartily welcome ~ Namaste
On this occasion, I would take this opportunity to introduce you to About meand importantly;
As i sit to write this final chapter, many memories from my journey that I first took eleven years ago arrive. Vivid. Bringing a state of spiritual alertness. An all round high, more out of oxygen levels shelving by the night, at that height. Breathing deep. I wasn’t able to stop my popcorn like popping soul at the sight of the Himalayas. More so I felt young. Carrying freedom in my eyes as I was being taken care of for months and if I wanted to, for as long, to only teach.
Incidents, accidents; new kind of trees, new crops, thin air, cold wind, white walls, narrow streets, mountain dogs, brick lanes, chants, monasteries, Tibetan flags; the mountain life; that air of newness like teenage romance, lived shortly. As a week later reality was waiting to peel soft layers from my wandering sight. How world works! How humans survive! The time in Leh was over. We crossed over the Himalayas passing through the world’s highest motorable road meeting the rude Karakoram Ranges. It was so cold that the tips of my toes were burning out loud inside shoes. A grey day. A devastating day for a co-traveller. For he had to inhale some oxygen at the army camp. We only felt saved when we started descending from the La, moving towards the land of double hump camels in Hunder, world’s highest cold desert meeting the ancient Silk Route. That same road which Marco Polo took in 12th century, and then taken by one of my favourite travel writers, William Dalrymple in the late 80s. I had dreamt of doing it too, and earning that name of being the best, most robust travellers of all times but then for Indians it was better to find their own way. And I was already on one. On my way to the northern most, last possible village of India, bordering with Pakistan, a way up the Siachin glacier; driving along the fear mounting river Shyok, towards the valley of Death.
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Present day, writing from my room in Leh
I cannot even measure this in words, how hard it has been for me, to reach Turtuk again, almost One thousand and sixteen hundred kilometers away from my room, I feel far, and I feel under prepared even after a decade later. I had already come close to call this final phase of our journey off.
I am tired. I don’t want it if it doesn’t want me.
The Tyres are old, the car is a box.
In 1971, while India and Pakistan were fighting their last full-bloodied war that lead to the creation of Bangladesh. Thousands of kilometers up north, deep in the gorges of ’Shyok valley in the freezing foothills of Siachin, Major Chewang Rinchin with his Regiment, Ladakhi Scouts started walking along the River Shyok, i.e ‘the river of death’ in Yarkandi Uyghur, but ceased fire after acquiring five villages. A total area of 804 sq. kilometers even before the Indo-Pakistan war was called off.
That night people of those five villages had gone to sleep in Pakistan, but they woke up in India the following morning. For forty years these villages, though in India could not be accessed by road.
Overnight families were cut forever from their relatives; Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, trees, home all were taken away!
It was a lost world for these five villages. Even today if you visit their kabristan- graveyard, you will find majority of the graves are smaller in size, of children. There were more reasons for a child to die earlier than anyone else. In these villages women out numbered men; many could never find any husband. Initially, while on a round to meet families of my children i felt uncomfortable while meeting sometimes three and most times four women talking as mothers, while the lone man stood behind. A family on an average had more than seven children, five to six of them girls. It were the old women of the village who helped young mothers’ conceive in the absence of medical facilities and many times unsuccessfully.
There was absolutely no one who had visited these villages from mainland India apart from the Army men. Khardung La was so huge and unconquerable that anyone crossing the La/pass was given a god like welcome, like it was given to us. More so when those men were teachers, taking huge risks to teach their unworthy children, or how they thought! The village opened and for the first time in the summer of 2011, we were asked to organize a building for a Senior Secondary School, situated by the river, to get it back to working condition and teach for the winter months to come. The news travels like wild fire in small places. And soon not only the village children, but children from far away villages registered. And even students from as far as Srinagar and Jammu started coming within weeks. Many more than village elders had ever thought.
Every thing was magic to my eyes. Swelled earth, purple mountains, the most perfect mineral rich water everyday from the Shyok, children and men alike talked of lores and black magic, of wild animals. Birds that I had never seen sat daily singing songs new to my ears. From the window where I stayed I could see the top of the mountain across the river, where locals pointed out an ancient fort for me. Yes there seemed like a room or two. Rocks placed in some order. But then few months later I saw an I-bex couple running, playing among selves. It was a sight. But here, in the village, that which completely owned my attention for an extended period, were the Donkeys. Ever since we landed our feet, day in and night out hundreds of donkeys used to run berserk from one end to the other non-stop braying like no one’s listening. When I asked about them from our local ‘godfather, Rehamatullah’, he first laughed, and in months to come I will learn that he would always laugh first and then speak, “there are around 600 donkeys here. All are male. We do not keep female donkeys. Why? ‘sound of laughter’, because they are like princess. They do no work at all, and if somehow you managed to load mud or bricks or anything on them, they will either lean on one side and drop everything in the middle of the road or will not move one step once they decide, what may ever you do. So its been some time that we only keep male donkeys. But why do they bray non-stop? Well they are calling to mate, they all now mate with each other. Some don’t want it and in order to save their Asses they run, and others run after them to push their middle hand on them.
On my morning walks in that first month once I reached at a point on a mountain where the stench became unbearable, looking around, a few hundred feet down the hill, i saw innumerable carcasses of donkeys that could be seen lying open. And these were suicides. Many children later told me that many donkeys start running, and they keep running and then just jump off the mountain. Just like that. Some donkeys were even seen banging their heads in the rocks, mountains till they give their breath away.
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Present day Scribbling
As a memory collector every word that i could write in those timesand each photograph that i took still makes me feel wealthy; today when I am driving this car, reaching to the place I had dreamt of for so long, placing my students and their ambitions on most winter nights before sleeping; more than a decade later pushing my luck, while driving from my home brought memories of unbelievable fortune and happiness that my parents do not count even today. I get to recall back something’s like magic, vanishing and appearing in an instant, in front of my eyes. Even though nothing feels real of what was achieved, what we started and what all was done. This journey, which feel never happened, never taken and then taken after labor of determined action, feels like dust or a fable to mind. But is there everything in it that i see!
In each word that i have ever spoken after it after that time, i represent it. Even the love of my children, their parents who placed their trust in me, I carry it or may be thereafter those children carried me.
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When I had first come to Leh, in 2009 on my motorbike, I had heard from the locals that it was not Leh which all wanted to come to; like life it was the journey to it. Leh was called ‘Life Ends Here’ by the travellers. A high altitude city located at over 12,000 ft. And if one decides to cross Khardung La, to reach to the other side into Nubra Valley- its going to welcome you like any ancient city that will make you feel like time travelling. Isolated but strangely connected, every turn one after the other opens such horizons that you will grow many years in one day just by sitting, drinking them all that day long. Because this day or two is going push your body even harder, your mind to those edges, to never before seen colors, heights, light, and the wind which in all probability you have avoided. The snake like, most treacherous, and probably the most alluring, fascinating, dazzling, life filling time with the wisest and most giving of them all; the Himalayas. They give way. Himalayas themselves giving way to the mighty, empty, robust, bossy, omnipotent, vigorous, brown, purple, dark, rustic the Karakorams. But I took to Baltistan, and it took me not as a merchant but as a storyteller who was asked to teach those uncanny children, those ones who only wanted to hunt foxes.
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To be continued
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If today is the first time you have arrived on The Road to Nara, you are heartily welcome ~ Namaste
And i would take this opportunity to introduce you About me and importantly;
It was sudden. A day of change. Something shifted.
Its been months that I had known where to look yet It took time to find. Because it had already found me. It was in my hands and sooner I became it. In my search for the permanent, in this land which once was ruled by the snakes.
In the name itself, energy resides. I reached Yogmaya. After months, without telling even my own self. The moment that child arrived I packed my bag, took my documents, opened the door and started walking towards her. As if she called on the eve of her birth night.
It was five thousand and sixty eight hundred years ago.
From today starts Nine days of Worshipping the mother.
How will you do it? I will take the help of Fire.
When she calls, the time subsides. Last evening, I was brimming with energy. I passed through the mausoleum and Mehrauli felt like a foreign country. It had been long I thought i was looking, rather I had forgotten how to hide. Though I carry an identity. Else you die. In an instant it became clear as a mountain sky that I am here to put secrets out in to the world, and if I am going to do it, it has to go through those doors that are not yet knocked. And it is not for every one to open them.
I have been here before i said to him. I had known this place, the like of it. But I had to close myself to know it again. From the back side. Or the earliest. To see what is not. To realize who was here first. And only then, surrender. Bow later, to touch where her head is; there is only the head. In front of me at last. At last.
The magic was already placed. I was looking at the walls. There were no monkeys. But the sound of twigs, flying leaves. The fall had started to work her magic and soon this greenery will all be gone. I was stopped by the guard selling flowers, to take some flowers. But I only had two coins of a rupee each. I could not give him. Neither could he. Yet I carried those flowers without touching them. The name that I wanted to see for a year, appeared in front on an arch like gate, one of the few memories of the old. It assured me of the first steps towards my truth.
I entered through the gate but did not remove my socks. I small talked with the widow who sat by the gate. She told me to read the board outside. But I already knew what it said. I told her I want to hear it. She went quiet. And quietly i said to me. I really want to hear some one. Only one. Assure me. Calm me. No one knows for how long I have waited to hear that one thing which will take me to the sound of forest. Not of the trees but even before the time of the trees. Even before the time any Ocean was churned. When it all was one. When this was Khandava.
And the sound. Of?
Quietly I entered like a bird. Looking.
Electricity came. Suddenly everything became new. Painted walls, tiles shining, purple coloured flooring. Flowers everywhere. Men decorating, cleaning, eating from phone. There was no sign of the kund, a deep well, where the mother used to bathe once a year. No Ashvattha tree. But there on the side at a far away corner was one Dhuni, the old yagya yantra. Cold, messy, not looked after, scattered, diffused, disorderly.
I sat on one leg, took some ash and put it on my antenna, some on my forehead. Stood and the moment I took the first step to do its parikrama. Water took my socks away. Earth of Yogmaya welcomed me thus. And I saw Mahant ji in deep meditation, waiting to tell me all about the Mother and Aurangzeb.
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Thank you for dreaming.
If you have something to share, or feel like saying a hello, please write to me at email@example.com
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If today is the first time you have arrived on The Road to Nara, you are heartily welcomed ~ Namaste
And would take this opportunity to introduce youAbout me and importantly;
Today is Lal Bahadur Shastri’s birthday. The second Prime Minister of India, who was rather killed/poisoned on his visit to Tashkent in 1966. He had gone to sign a peace deal organised by the US and the USSR seminaries, UN security members with Pakistan’s Military Leader Ayub Khan after the war of 1965. The deal was signed in the evening as the Peace Pact failed. The next morning, he was found dead in his room. For days, months and years that commenced and kept passing by; it was less strange, rather maddening that no one ever asked for an inquiry, no one protested, no body looked for proofs or questioned the circumstances of his death. Death of the head of a nation state was accepted as mere fate.
He was a sincere and a firm leader. He did not shy away from going into war with Pakistan in 1965, that was pushed on him merely a year later he took office; and only three years later, after Nehru’s historical blunder when China opened fire and defeated us in the war of 1962.
Today is the day that is long known and celebrated across schools and other institutions as Mahatma Gandhi’s birth day, 2nd October. I wanted to remember Lal Bahadur Shastri likewise while congratulating everyone for what they did to build this nation to where it is today.
It is deeply important to me that we keep walking towards empowering children in the ways that is today available to us. That we reform and make that evolution happen in each child, which is their rightful, fundamental right. As it is not for them but to humanity we will and must serve as one.
This also reminds me of another Reformer that I want to quote is Babasaheb Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, probably the most important figure after Gandhi that India could receive from. A Jurist, Economist, Teacher, Social Reformer. One of the five men, behind India’s constitution. And it was he, probably only he, whom Gandhi detested, may be even hated as he could not literally stand Ambedkar.
In a 1955 BBC interview and here, Ambedkar had said, “Gandhi was never a Mahatma; I refuse to call him a Mahatma. He can be heard saying that Gandhi was no reformer. “He was just an episode in the history of India, not an epoch maker,”
While some Gandhian scholars have time and again dismissed Ambedkar’s characterisation of Gandhi as mere ‘polemic’, I would argue that his sharp criticism stems from logical analysis and philosophical disagreement rather than hatred for Gandhi as a political opponent.
Ambedkar was of course not Gandhi like. All his life he tried, but he could not touch the Indians in a way that Gandhi could, this thing called the soul. But Ambedkar touched something more important to the body. He touched their mind.
And while what both of them could not touch rather bring along was the union of the mind and the soul, they did try, may be we all are. To makes this body; Bharat, which is India.
While growing up as a young kid, there were many things i never liked about my school. And the foremost was that it unintentionally took my freedom away or so I think. I was never introduced to any ancient Indian texts, neither I learnt anything about Yoga or even Sanskrit till i was 13. A child like me who only wanted to see and know of the world was made to sit and learn answers to the question for examinations after every three months or more like a parrot. So much so my unlearning started before i could wake up my interest for higher learning. And soon it started affecting my results in higher classes or that is what i think of it now probably because i couldn’t pursue anything apart from five subjects at school.
I feel liberated at the thought that I am not in school. And more so there is no more need to answer questions about Gandhi’s contribution to India’s freedom struggle.
School history curriculum was also one reason i did not take Modern History of India as my thesis while studying for my Masters in History. I am glad I am not preparing for the Civil Services Exam and writing essays on the differences between Gandhi’s and Nehru’s outlooks. I am so glad that period of my life is not ongoing and that tryst with the persisting education system is over.
It took me years to distance myself from school, to realize about the wrong decisions that were politically taken on account of Gandhi. As I answered a friend’s query over phone on my thoughts on Gandhi, on his 152nd birthday on 2nd October, i actually started with thanking him within me. Also because i consider Gandhi’s “My Experiments with Truth” to be the first ever book i remember reading consciously, that changed something in me, that even kept calling me back once a year in my adult life for over a few years. It helped me embrace some habits that i still carry. But a lot later again when my political or worldly mind started developing, I realized the importance, more so the magnanimity of events that went on with us as a colony. We as a nation had already started looking up to Gandhi a lot before he became Mahatma. He was so called an educated Indian out of the illiterates, in our colonizer’s eye. He was a lawyer, someone who could carry or represent the India that can become the India ruled by the British. But so much so his decisions- The Khilafat movement, the Direct Action Day, his controversial role in Bhagat Singh’s hanging, the sidelining of Netaji, the Partition of India — all these debilitating, damaging events in the life of India made me realize the culpability of Gandhi. Even in his personal life, it wrings my heart to think of the women whose lives were possibly destroyed by the man’s “experiments’ with celibacy”.
But there is one thing that Gandhi understood and said which completely lines up with what I have learned about India in the past two and little more than half decades of my efforts to decolonize myself — that India lives in its villages. In my travels crisscrossing the states of India on my bike, hitch hiking, or even long walking journeys, soaking in its uniqueness, I often remembered his words from My experiments with Truth, that the warmth and kindness of villagers and people living in small towns, the faith in Bhagwan, the adherence to meaningful traditions long-discarded in urban India; all these would make me understand that indeed, “India’s soul lived in her villages”.
Of course, Gandhi was not the first to observe that the Atman, the soul of India was in its villages or that they need to be preserved for the sake of humanity. The Rishis and Gurus of India have not only known it but have done much to preserve that ethos. The Ashrams they established and the discourses they gave kept the oldest civilization rooted for a long time. And yet, in a broken India left behind by the British, it is from Gandhi that I learned about the Charkha, Khadi, the cottage industries and the importance of rural livelihoods. At a time when development, industrialization and modernization were all that India wanted, someone who spoke up for Indian villages — for that, I will acknowledge Gandhi.
Yet another statement of Gandhi that hit me between the eyeballs is that the British left India more illiterate than it was 50–100 years before. Like many Indians in modern India, I thought that the British, despite all the evil they wrought with their oppressive rule had at least established modern schools in India, which raised many people out of illiteracy. I myself studied in a Christian missionary school and was taught to think that the poor in India had to be uplifted not just from poverty but also from the ignorance of Dharma.
Reading the statement of Gandhi on British-fuelled illiteracy in Dharampal’s “The Beautiful Tree” burst my bubble and forced me to explore the extent of damage caused by English-medium schools in India. It made me cry at the impoverishment of villages caused by oppressive taxation, the destruction of the ecosystem of learning, the disconnect with Indian languages that had once been rich in literature and sciences, the descent into unawareness and the degradation into confused Indians who do not speak or write well in their own languages. The rootless Indians who loathe their own civilization and discard her myriad gifts, who do not know how to use their own indigenous worldview are but a product of the schooling that started from colonial times.
Leaders are often imperfect, even fatally flawed. I am glad we are learning to stop idolizing them. But sometimes, a grain of truth emerges from the people we barely agree with.
As they say, Fame and foresight are rarely bedfellows.
When we reached Gopeshwar that night, Gana seemed speechless. But Neel looked at him with satisfaction giving an expression like then he has seen.
We sat around fire, while waiting for the food to arrive. Open your ears said Neel and he began speaking like reciting an over practised hymn. The men in the east, he said, are trees; those in the south are flocks of animals; those in the west are wild plants. And those in the north like ourselves, who cried out while they ate other men, were the waters. When the collective sound started filling the air, he started explaining about eating.
The act of eating is a violence that causes what is living, in its many forms, to disappear. Whether grass, plants, trees, animals or human beings, the process is the same.
There is always a fire that devours and a substance that is devoured. This violence bringing misery and torment will one day be carried out by those who inflict it. Pouring milk into the fire- every morning, every evening- meant accepting that what appears disappears and that what has disappeared serves to give sustenance to something else, in the invisible. There are some people who have become skilled in detecting evil with supreme ease. Evil for them was already apparent ever since that moment when an axe first struck a tree or a hand uprooted a plant; a metaphysical evil, inherent in everything that is forced to destroy a part of the world in order to survive. Evil is therefore everywhere and in everything. This is why sacrifice is also everywhere, above all in mankind and hence in everything. In every act that consumes a part of the world, in every act that destroys. There is no neutral state, no state in which this doesn’t happen. Such a chain of events cannot change. Those who eat will be eaten. Those who slaughter will be slaughtered. Those who eat meat will themselves become meat.
Men always follow, it is the agni who conquers.
For several years there have been feverish attempts to unearth horse bones in Punjab and around regions. Region around Kurukshetra, the birth place of Bhagvad Gita – to prove that there innovation the horse was already to be found in those regions. For according to some all that is most ancient and memorable must necessarily grow on Indian soil.
Why did the ancients not build cities, or kingdoms, or empires? Asked Gana. Because they did not seek power, but rapture, said Neel. Every construction was temporary, including the fire altar. It was not a fixed object but a moving vehicle. Once the voyage was complete, the vehicle used to be destroyed. And hence the ancients never developed the idea of a temple. If such care was given to constructing a bird, it was to make it fly. To attain the light. They wanted nothing more, but also nothing less.
That they received their learnings from the sun. To know one must burn.
I wasn’t really planning to write anything, after The Sins of America any more of whatever turned out in Afghanistan as there seemed no point to keep poking but it all changed the moment i saw a video of the US secretary of state Antony Blinken, who while facing the toughest grilling of his carrier remarked that “they inherited a deadline, and did not inherit any plan,”. It angered me to say the least.
World’s strongest, resource filled country actually had no plan for 20 years. And it is safe to say that they have no plan to deal with anything under the sun, leave China; I do not think anymore that anyone of us will ever get to know anything about the origins the Corona virus.
The funniest part is, that those terrorists who were once on the UN blacklist, were carrying millions of money on their heads, the deadliest of human killers have become great again. Google Mullah Baradar, the Taliban co-founder is now on this week’s ‘Times ‘100 most influential people of 2021‘. Is this a Joke! A terrorist is now a politician according to google, and probably soon to be the President of a country. What are we showing the coming generations to deal with killers, and how. This is blasphemous.
Afghanistan indeed may not be the last blunder of the Biden presidency. Taiwan could probably be next. Robert Gates, who served as defense secretary under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, wrote in 2014 that Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” Gates has proved right.
In fact, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in May 2010 letter found at his Pakistani compound after he was killed by U.S. forces, advised al-Qaeda not to target then-Vice President Biden, in the hope that he would one day become president. “Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the U.S. into a crisis,” bin Laden wrote. He too has proved correct.
Here in India, who is almost a new found ally of the US since the birth of the Quad, the Indo-Pacific, as they have been challenged by the Chinese on the face, has somewhere taken a hit of trust as Biden’s Afghanistan fiasco is a disaster for Asia, and this Self-inflicted defeat sends message that allies cannot count on the U.S intelligence, their friendship or more so India, who has been fighting terrorism ever since the times when the west had no Idea what was it actually. India has already been guarding her borders against the united might of China and Pakistan on her own.
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Indian astrology, which is the ancient most science that the Indians developed, which i have always been curious about, coming from my great grandfather, even though i have written very little about it; i sat with a friend last month and came out with an understanding that this was a landmark event in the world Politics. And in some years to come it was seen that it is certainly going to destabilise this region, mainly the middle east and the southern Europe which could be one of the major factors in contributing towards a full blown major war by the end of this decade. Pandemic was one factor, this is other factor and even other things will develop in a few years time.
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Being a storyteller, and having served organisations like the National Geographic and having been nominated once as the World Press Photo Global Talent in 2020, i am completely aware of what Photojournalists go through while covering a war in war-torn country. It felt like a responsibility to present this essay as a visual anthology of last 20 years starting from that very day when the Soviets were leaving, making way for the US to come over as they filled Pakistani pockets.
These images, and some of them pierced my peace and snatched sleep from my eyes yesternight as i was assembling them to present it.
This is the work of all those Photojournalists who have worked with a certain sense of death looming over their heads all the time and as readers, thinkers, observers, learners, lovers of humanity, love and peace it is our duty to see what war is. What does it do to humans, and woman, Children and above all a country. I really want that this must sleep with each human who looks at this essay today and whenever they do, that this happened and if it happened there, it might happen anywhere. Because some times, and most naturally in the times of war, Images say something that words may not want to touch, and almost they even might never.
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Text : Narayan Tushar Kaudinya Photographs from Known and Unknown sources: Internet. Research/Thanks to: The Indian Express,Wion, Geopolitic expert Mr. Chellany, Stagecraft and Forbes
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Things have been volatile in our part of the world. Unsettling, as what happened was not conceived well before or rather this only was the peace deal.
The Peace deals that started taking shape of some form during the Trump era, without any allies on the table; of all not even India who for last twenty years singlehandedly built almost everything for the Afghan nation- from the roads to schools, to their dams, to even the Parliament- this was never what the Indians were working for and it has shaken the trust the allies had on them.
As every other being thought that the Taliban would be given a fight, tall talks of resistance by the afghan forces were given, President Ghani talking about winning the final war against the battles that Taliban has won fled just like the US Army, quietly in the night. Biden talking about the inevitability of Kabul falling, or it not being the rerun of what happened in Vietnam, rather it is the worst what will take shape in the coming time because the Taliban is a virus, it is an ideology of the most medieval kind. And the worst part is that it has takers around the world, even amongst us.
Everyone involved has ruined everything for Afghanistan. There is no tomorrow, no future but to sit and grow beards, as the sail of the burqas and hijabs went an all time high.
Who leaves overnight! Not an army at least! Not those people who fight for the right, for the truth, on a distant soil, in a hostile country 4000 kilometres far from their land, for twenty long years. There is no doubt that one cannot fight for infinity for the other, but no one asked them to come here and start all of it. They chose it, they chose to be here till the ‘mission is accomplished’. What mission? To leave at the most appropriate time, to leave the Jihadist fighters the strongest they have ever been. And leaving for them all the classified documents, modern sophisticated weapons, helicopters, tanks, Humvees, latest machine AT Guns that the Russians and the Chinese will look over for themselves as much as they are being carried over to Pakistan, as it is all three of them along with Iran whose consulates are still open when world’s embassies are scrambling to get out of this blood bath.
Nothing really can explain this behaviour of the US think tank other than time.
Any empire like the US of today have seven deadly sins, and one of them is morality that, to use Tagore’s phrase, “is split down the middle,” committed to the very thing it disavows. What does the rule of law mean when empire itself enacts a regular lawlessness?
If one quietly goes through their war history, apart from the two bombs that they dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki- The US in their years long history of war, has not even won even a single battle, ever. And wherever they have gone, they have left a series of serious mayhem, confusion, vulnerability- From Iraq to Western Pakistan to drug wars; Libya, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Somalia, Lebanon, the coups from Iran to Chile; the creation of secret intruments of violence in assorted places from Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Laos, Honduras, El Salvador; sanctuary to autocracies and exporters of violent fundamentalism from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, each of whom have subverted the US’s own aims. Ask the question: “Did intervention leave a place in a better condition or achieve an objective with least violence possible?” The answer often turns out to be “no”. The tens of thousands of civilian casualties testify to that.
Afghanistan, country which at last had started breathing at least, women were trying to come out of their shells after hundreds of years of brutality, taking charge slowly as equals but what happened was so fast and so surreal that it shook even the experts of geopolitics, officials, ministers the world over and above all us, the common man looking at it from television or computer screens, like we were made to get addicted to these visuals as if it is the way to be. I do not imagine if any major power has really condemned the Taliban takeover rather surprisingly many including the United Kingdom Army General Sir Nick Carter was seen talking in the favour of the Taliban takeover! Isn’t this the worst kind where you are almost bound to acknowledge the fact that probably Jehad is good, and fine in the name of god, the only god!
It is a disaster by a long shot, as what the US and the allies gained, worked on slowly, tirelessly for twenty long years went down the drain within days. And for the American- the name as a brand, its military and of course the common man who still held the US army in high esteem, see it nothing but as tyranny. Not because what they did is the work of a responsible army but because in these times and era we have cameras in probably each hand to record their unmissable mindset and a legacy that they have been carrying and leaving wherever they went. And with them went an army of media houses setting the narratives right of what was originally wrong, making Superman’s and The Hurt Locker’s and what not telling the tale of their right and might. Not any more.
If one knows, The Taliban, like Al Qaeda, evolved from the violent jihadists that the CIA trained in Pakistan to wage war against the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan in the mid and late 80s. It was only after the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks at home that the US turned against the Taliban. Then, in search of a face-saving exit from the military quagmire in Afghanistan, America embraced the Taliban by concluding a “peace” deal with them. That development eventually led the US to unwittingly enable the conquest of Afghanistan by the same thuggish group that it had removed from power in 2001.
The US and its Western allies are located far away. But with the terrorist takeover of Afghanistan, India is being encircled by the China-Pakistan strategic nexus. In fact, the Taliban reconquest of Afghanistan will facilitate an even stronger China-Pakistan axis against India, while aiding the Pakistani intelligence’s proxy war against Indian targets.
The stepped-up threat from the axis may not be of immediate nature, yet the Taliban’s success creates greater strategic space for the two revisionist allies, China and Pakistan, to collaborate and advance their interests at India’s expense. This, coupled with Pakistan’s long-coveted acquisition of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, holds significant, long-term implications for the security of India and the wider region.
As, when the Taliban last came to power, the terror ran in the Kashmir valley for over decade and still keeps the Indian Security Forces on high guards, now with a whole country going to the Super Demons of Terror; simply put, after the Afghan people and Afghan nation, India, and majorly Kashmir will be the biggest loser from Biden’s Afghanistan blunder.
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Old age is usually associated with caution and judiciousness. But the 78-year-old Biden has lived up to the adage “Act in haste, repent at leisure”. In doing so, he has undermined the trust of allies in US leadership. America’s allies henceforth will balk at unquestioningly toeing its line on issues in which they have a stake. Biden, by handing Afghanistan to terrorists, has also undercut the US-led global war on terror. The US may not be able to recoup from the Afghanistan disaster. And i hope they don’t because they are weak and weaning, and work not from the position of strength and but are sybaritic, not worthy, not deserving anymore of what they hold.
Last week, when all of this started happening i felt like drowning myself in the works of some poets of Afghanistan that have seen the country through when i came across a poem that drew me first and settled deep within somehow of how i felt, of how the poet must have felt, we became one. may be in future i may write more about these extraordinary men who took to pen when in every hand there was Gun;
So long, Afghanistan!
Sometimes I forget completely what companionship is. Unconscious and insane, I spill sad energy everywhere. My story gets told in various ways: a romance, a dirty joke, a war, a vacancy.
Divide up my forgetfulness to any number, it will go around. These dark suggestions that I follow, are they a part of some plan? Friends, be careful. Don’t come near me out of curiosity, or sympathy.
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Photograph from Unknown source: Internet. Research/Thanks to: The Indian Express, Al Jazeera, Geopolitic expert Mr. Chellany and the Poems from Afghanistan Poetry club.
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If you have anything to share, write or ever feel like saying a hello, do write to me at email@example.com
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If today is the first time you have arrived on The Road to Nara, you are heartily welcomed ~ Namaste
I would take this opportunity to introduce you About me and importantly;