Innocent Victims

In the last part of chapter 17 of the autobiography Growing Up Untouchable in India, Vasant Moon mentions the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi from his perspective as an Indian Dalit. Despite the opposition of Baba Sahib Ambedkar to him, Moon, along with many other untouchables, regrets the loss of such a great man from the history of his country. However, the important fact about Dalits’ fear of the possibility of an Untouchable being the murderer of Gandhi and the unbelievable consequences that untouchable community might face in that case doesn’t leave Moon’s mind. He feels relieved upon hearing the murderer is a Brahman.

Moon’s experience as a member of an oppressed minority is natural. In many societies, even the societies that consider themselves most civilized and tolerant to pluralism, minority groups are not treated fairly whenever there is a suspicion that a member of such groups might be guilty of an unforgivable crime such as raping a woman or committing mass murder. Until the source of crime is not confirmed, a great amount of fear shades over the minority communities. They are usually subject of unfair accusation or harassments. If the source of crime is confirmed to be a member, then the whole community waits for the upcoming revenge in fear.

Although not personally, but as an Afghan refugee I have witnessed a similar situation. I remember I went to primary school when the news about a chain murder with female victims became the first title of all the newspapers in Iran. The unknown murderer, know as “the bats of night,” was first assumed to be an Afghan. Though it was not proved by the officials,  even the press mentioned that and increased xenophobia against Afghan refugees in Iran. I heard most Afghan men in big cities avoided going out of their houses for several days due to the fear of being harassed, robbed, or beaten to death. My relatives reported that they took a woman with themselves when they wanted to go out of the house. My brother and my cousin in that time were in the capital city, and were arrested and sent to jail with no reason. They were beaten and forced to clean the jail by Iranian prisoners. My brother said it was very hard to bear such humiliation while being innocent. However, they preferred to swallow their pain rather than making the situation more complicated by arguing with the police. However, they were released shortly after. Later, the murderer’s identity was introduced as an Iranian man. In a relatively similar situation, many Muslim communities in western countries faced unfair treatment or even violence after 11th September attack.

With globalization accelerating migration and actualizing multi-cultural and multi-national societies, citizens’ social and religious tolerance toward minority groups should be reinforced by raising awareness among people. Mass media, educational institutions, and government officials can play a positive role by having an impartial approach to the issue.

I Dind’t Want to Forget

Chapter 10 of Growing Up Untouchable in India by Vasant Moon depicts the sense of honor and pride of Dalits for their flag. I enjoyed reading it as it reminded me of an old experience.

Due to war in Afghanistan, young Afghan refugee generation didn’t know much about their war-torn country. I was one of them. We felt nothing is left to be proud of. We thought Afghanistan was and had always been a piece of worthless land, with no glory, no history. With the country that we had never seen, and now instead of kites or birds, bombs and rockets flew in its sky, how miserable inheritor we were. Taliban were taking the control of most parts of the country, like the black, ominous crows covering the blue sky. Every sign about a bright future for Afghanistan seemed so hopeless that imagining our country free and prosperous filled our heart with heavy grief. But in the summer of 2001 something happened which evoked the love for my country in my heart, this time a love mixed with pride.

My older brother was an active member of Afghan Student Union in Mashhad back then. He brought home some pictures of historical places and natural beauty of Afghanistan, Darul Aman Palace before and after being destroyed, Afghan chidden wearing traditional clothes, and many other pictures that they had displayed in an exhibition in Mashhad. It was the first time I saw something glorious and beautiful about my country, my homeland. I felt proud of it. Something revitalized in me, a lost love. I wanted to share it with other afghan boys and girls in our community, to show them pictures of their country, their vatan. My brother agreed and encouraged me. With help of my sisters, my cousin, and my friend, we made a big poster, stuck the photos on it and added description about each photo. My older sister made the flag of Afghanistan by sewing three pieces of clothe together: black, red, green. It was then that for the first time I touched the flag of my country against my face in quest of smelling my lost identity. Those three symbolic colors generously offered a peaceful moment to my heart as I hugged the flag like a child who seek sanctuary in the warmth of her mother’s arm.

We installed the flag and the poster on the wall of Alzahra Mosque, just to remind other Afghan youths of their motherland and revitalize the love for vatan in their heart, the love that could make them live stronger and hopeful for a better tomorrow.

At the end of that summer, on 11 September, the destruction of two towers in a far land changed the course of history for my country.

What to do?

At the end of the chapter 8 of the book Growing up Untouchables in India, Vasant Moon talks about his concern about his action and the decision he made to stop the marriage of a teenage girl to a 45-year-old man. He managed to threaten the 45-year-old man to change his mind about marrying a teenage girl. However, later he is questioned about stopping the marriage. For many days since then, Moon thinks about the complexity of social issues and the girl’s future, and wonders if his decision has been a right one.

Facing dilemmas in decision making seems more important when the decision we make will affect other people’s lives. I used to ask myself how leaders, people in authority, or anyone who is in a position to make decisions about other people’s lives can cope with the pressure of making important or life-lasting decisions, while I had hard time making simple decisions that only affected my own life. I knew it needed a lot of courage to make crucial decisions, but what was more difficult was to face the consequences of making decisions, especially if it is wrong.

I learned the answer of my question from two serials: All Saints and 24. All Saints was an Australian serial about nurses and doctors who worked in a government hospital with the same name. Some of the nurses were dispatched for rescue team missions. In several cases, doctors or nurses faced a situation when that they were not determined what was the right thing to do. The life of the patient was in their hands, and they had to make a final decision how to save their lives. They did, but if they lost the patient or caused more damage, they tried not to blame themselves and accepted the fact that they were human beings and liable to make mistakes.

In 24, Jack Bauer and his team worked for Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) and detected and stopped terrorist attacks on America’s soil. One of the important characteristics of Jack was his strong determination. He didn’t show any doubt while making decisions so that his team would believe in him and follow him. He taught his colleagues to make their mind thinking about the priorities; for them it was national security. In most of their missions, each second’s worth was very high, and they shouldn’t waste it by pausing and pondering what to do next. Sometimes, they made mistakes, and people were killed. However, many times they saved people’s lives too. If they thought only about the negative parts they would go crazy, and end up in an asylum. But Jack and his team would continue to serve their people.

The important thing was that they all had a good intention, used all their skills and human knowledge, and did the best they could.

Rain, Lake, Potato, Fairytales

In the chapter 4 of the book Growing Up Untouchable in India, Vasant Moon talks about his childhood memories before, during, and after the monsoon rains. He mentions how he used to roam around with friends, steal fruits from neighborhood trees, take off his clothes and run freely under the rain, search for crabs in the river bank after the rain, and participate in festival of snake.  It seems that despite the poverty he has suffered, Moon has been a free child and enjoyed this freedom by exploring the nature with the company of friends.

I have good memories of the rainy days. Kazeroon, my hometown, was hot and dry in the summer, but cool and rainy in the winter. It never snowed but rained a lot in the winter, and Kazeroon turned to an alive, fresh, green city in the winter. After the rain stopped, I used to wear my green, rubber boots and rush outside the house. Our alley was not paved during my childhood; therefore, rainwater gathered in one corner of the alley and created a big pond, which looked like a lake for us. I remember we enjoyed a lot to step in our lake and watch the circles of water created around our feet. We crossed the pond several times and sang songs loudly. Then we would come home, and my uncle baked potatoes in a small fire he made in the yard. It tasted wonderful with salt and chili.

Sometimes when the rain was accompanied with the storm or strong wind, then we lost electricity. We used to light a candle, go to my father, and along with my siblings and my cousins, ask him to tell us grandmother’s stories. He remembered many exciting, and wonderful tales and legends that his mother had told him in his childhood. My father was a good storyteller. In the light of the candle and amid thunderclaps,  I enjoyed listening to my father’s Afghan fairytales and legends. They all were adventurous and had happy ending.

Now that I am a grown-up, I feel happy that I had a wonderful childhood. It fills my heart with pleasure when I reminisce about it. However, now I think about other children as well. I ask myself if all the children in the world enjoy their right to play outdoors, to scream under the rain from the bottom of their heart, and to chase their playmates among the trees without being worried about tomorrow, about their dinner for tonight. But the answer is there are many children who do not experience those innocent moments of childhood when one is not supposed to worry about responsibilities, about war, about family’s expenses. They have to work and sell their childhood happiness to buy a better tomorrow, which they may never see!!!

Dad, I Have My Own Dream!

“The Death of a Salesman” is the story of a family struggling through hardship of economic recession in the aftermath of the Great Depression. Willy Loman, the main character in the play and the father of the family, is an old salesman who is not happy with his current status in his career and his relationship with his sons. Since Willy hasn’t been successful in fulfilling his own dream of becoming a famous, rich, and well liked salesman, he puts his sons, especially Biff, under pressure to accomplish the dream for him.

It is very painful, in my opinion, to prevent others from following their own dreams. Each person has his own vision about life, and based on his interest, has the right to imagine a future for himself and build the palace of his dream in his mind. It’s true that parents devote their life to provide the best life for their children, and their only wish is to see their children happy and successful; however, they do not have the right to define the meaning of success and happiness from their own perspective for their children and dictate them how to live. Instead, parents, while standing beside their children and supporting them, should let their children touch the life with their own hands and experience harshness and softness of life exposure on them. It’s a great joy to discover one’s own dream and pursuing it as a target in life. Now imagine how cruel it is, with the name of parenthood rights, to deprive a child from finding and discovering such an important reality.

I have seen many Willy Lomans around myself in my life. One of them really drew me crazy. He was a very hardworking father who wished his children to have university education and bring pride to the family. That was his definition of success, which he himself never could achieve. He tried his best and worked from dawn to dusk to provide the best facilities for his children, and he did, but his expectations were very high. All the time, he blamed his children for their failure in entering university. His sons fought with him everyday and finally ran away from home. His daughters had to bear all his nags the moments their father was at home. I saw how they suffered while they struggled to live the way their father expected them to. They wished to get free from that cage named “home,” but being a girl, their only solution was marriage.

When I saw how miserable both the father and the children were, I promised myself that I will never steal the joy of discovering their own life dream from my children, that I would not expect my children to be me, that I will help and support them to become themselves.

The Heaven at School

In the second chapter of Growing Up Untouchable in India, Vasant Moon talks about how his teachers’ kind and non-discriminative manner toward him had affected Brahman children to respect him and provided a healthy, equally competitive atmosphere in the school. To describe his teachers, Moon says, “They had compassion for Mahar boys. They never treated me scornfully.”

Before I read this book, I had no idea of different castes in India or its neighboring countries. I knew there was a great gap between the poor and rich, but I didn’t knew some groups of people were titled as untouchables, were considered dirty by birth, hold low worth and value in society’s opinion, and inherited poverty, life in slums, and disgusting jobs from their parents. However, it was interesting for me to learn there were teachers in the author’s personal history that had great impact on him and, beside teaching science, thought their students one of the main important lessons of life: Be a human and respect other humans.

I had a bit similar experience about educational atmosphere dominating the schools I studied in Iran. Despite many hardships Afghan refugees struggled with, there was a positive point about their life in Iran. We, the children, could use the advantage of a free and relatively good-quality education as Iranian citizens did. In the period of time my siblings and I went to school, enrolment in public schools was free for Afghan refugees who had Refugee’s Identification Card.  Although in the society all Iranians didn’t have a kind and respectful attitude toward Afghan refugees, at school everything was fair. I never experienced discrimination because of my nationality, and I really appreciate all my teachers, principles, and management teams of all four schools I attended in Iran for their humanitarian behavior. I got the same education and care as my Iranian classmates did, and I compete freely with them in all the fields such as sience, art, sport and other extra curriculum activities. Whenever I entered a competition as the representative of my school, the teachers and the headmaster completely supported and encouraged me to try and win. They felt proud of me when I won without considering my nationality. In addition, the rules were clear enough that nobody had the right to insult us or misbehave with us at school because of our nationality.

The author’s experience prove the importance of education and the significant effect of teachers’ attitudes and ideologies on shaping students’ characters and socializing them as decent citizens of tomorrow. I hope one they, all the bitter darkness that cause pain, discrimination, and violation of rights in our societies would be eradicated with the brightness of education.

The Faked Flag

In the first chapter of the autobiography Growing Up Untouchable in India, Vasant Moon describes the neighborhood, a slum area, he grew up in. Among the people he points at, there is a woman, Ragho’s wife, who took advantage of uneducated women’s faith in gods by taking them to the temple in the time of epidemic of diseases like cholera, diarrhea, or smallpox.  The women would go to temple, where Ragho’s wife pretended she is hosting the goddess’s sprit and demanded women for sacrifices such as goats and chickens.

When I read this part of the book, I was reminded of a similar situation in Afghanistan.  Last year, when I was in Kabul, I heard everyday many Shea residents of Kabul rushed to visit a holly flag installed near a mosque in Barchi district of Kabul.  There was rumor a man has brought this flag from holly shrine of Imam Husain located in Karbala, Iraq. Imam Husain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, has a very high place and value in Shea people’s heart. They all love him so deeply for the way he has sacrificed his family and his own life for the sake of God. Shea people celebrate his birthday every year and moan for his death in a special ceremony on Ashura Day, when all Shea people were black and cry for his loss. So you can imagine how passionately people welcome a flag from his grave and rush to visit it. I heard many people, most of whom were women, offered nazri, money or jewelry given in order to receive blessing from God or a holly character, to the boxes that were placed beside the flag by the man who claim he had brought it from Karbala. They also brought sick people with the hope Imam Husain’s love and spiritual power would cure them.  Among the sick people, I heard there has been a girl who was told her disease couldn’t be cured in Afghanistan and she needed to go immediately to a neighboring country for treatment. The girl’s father had booked a fight to Pakistan to take his daughter there for treatment. However, he had changed his mind and had brought her daughter beside this flag to be cured. Two days later the girl had died.

I remember how indignant I felt about the owner of the flag and how cruelly he had taken advantage of the innocent love and faith of some naïve and uneducated people when I heard the news about the death of the girl. I imagined in my mind how he collected the moneys and jewelries from the box every night and laughed, a sinister laughter, at the people he had cheated.

War’s Ugly Face

In the last chapter of The Joy Luck Club, Jing-mei finds her twin sisters, the girls that her mother had to leave beside a road outside of Kweilin during the war. The story of Suyuan, her struggle to save her daughter’s lives, and later her long quest to find them is very heart touching. But it is the nature of war. Most of the wars in the history had left long-lasting impacts on family relationships. Many children have lost fathers or mothers because of wars and had nobody to support them.  Many others have lost their body part or got seriously injured during a war, and consequently remained a burden for their families, or may have got divorce from their spouses.  Some family members also were separated from each other because of unexpected conditions of the war.

The war in Afghanistan separated many children from their parents and many sisters from brothers. My mother was one of those people who had to say goodbye, in tears, to her parents and siblings without knowing when she could meet them again. She migrated with her husband, my father, and her four children to Iran to take refuge. She was married and had to move wherever my father would go, and my father decided migrating to Iran was the best option for the family. My mother met her father and two of her brothers later in Iran who had come for a short visit, but not her mother and her younger brother and sister. She always had the nostalgia about visiting and talking to her mother again, but there was war continuing in Afghanistan, and it was not safe to travel. Besides, it was very expensive in those times to travel across the border. We were very young when she heard about her youngest brother being killed in the war, but I remember the sad moments when she was told about the death of her old father and then her oldest brother. It is very painful that you just hear the news about the death of a beloved one, a family member, but you are not able to cry over their grave or share his or her memory with other family members to get calm. The only things she had from her family were some old pictures, which she used to look at when she missed them. We sometimes received some letters from my uncles, but my mother couldn’t even call them, because all the phone lines were damaged during the war.

However, finally the war apparently ended in Afghanistan, and my mother managed to meet her mother and remaining siblings after 25 years. Everybody was crying, but this time with smile in their heart.

The Guests and Cultural Values

In the chapter “Waiting between the Trees” of The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan, Ying-Ying says complains about her daughter’s way of treating with a guest. It seems she is not pleased with the room her daughter and her husband have allocated as the guest bedroom, for it is not the best bedroom in the house. She indicates that according to Chinese culture, the best room of the house is assigned for the guests.

Like Chinese people, hospitality is one of the characteristic of Afghan people too. A guest in Afghan culture has a high value and respected position. Most Afghans are Muslim, and in Islam a guest should be respected and treated as a friend of God. Therefore, Afghan people provide the best food and the best place of their house for the guests. Even if they are poor, still the try to serve their guest with the best thing they have or the most expensive way they can afford.  I like this tradition because I think it encourages relationship between friends and relatives.

However, sometimes this cultural value can create problems for the families, especially poor families who live under poverty line. In Afghanistan, there are many occasions that families should invite the guests to their house; for example, when a couple gets married, they should invite both bride and groom family, or when a person dies, they should invite his or her family members so that they wouldn’t be alone. Also, when a guest from another city or country comes, all the relatives have to invite him or her for a meal. Imagine if you are from a poor family, living in a big city like Kabul, and so many relatives live with you in the same city. Imagine how many guests you will have in week!!! Most of the family’s budget goes on serving meals for the guests. The budget that is not enough to cover the basic needs of the family members themselves. Sometimes they have to borrow money for keeping their reputation by serving the guests properly, with the expensive food that they don’t eat themselves.

I guess it is good to invite guests and share your happiness and time with friends and relatives, but we should pay attention that what creates joy and a friendly atmosphere in party s is not the expensive food but the smile and respectful treatment of the host. If we come to understand that for showing our good intentions and pure feeling we do not necessarily need materialistic way, we can enjoy the moments we spend with others.

The Magpies and the Tears

At first I was confused by the story of the turtle and the birds drinking the tears in the chapter “Magpies” of the Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. It is the story that An-mei’s mother tells her the night before she leaves. She tells the story of how she had once cried in the pond and magpies had drunk from her tears and become happy.  An-mei’s mother tells her she never should show her weakness and cry over her misery, for crying doesn’t help her to erase her pain and sorrow. Keeping this lesson in mind, later An-mei tells her own daughter, Rose, not to cry for her marriage to a psychiatrist who cannot help her solve the problem. She believes what Rose needs is to stand and talk on behalf of herself. Rose, who has lost her confidence in herself and lacks the power to make decisions due to a painful experience in the past, is married to a stubborn and single-minded husband, and their marriage hasn’t been a successful one. She is confused with the idea of divorce and the $10,000 check from her husband in front of her. Finally, after shutting up herself in the house for three days, Rose decides it has no use to weep over her misery and the marriage she cannot save. Also, she stops listening to her psychiatrist who cannot give her a proper advice. Instead, she starts to think of herself and what she wants from life for the first time. it might be a little late, but at least she starts living as a tree, strong and independent, not a weed, weak and lining on others.

I agree with An-mei and her mother to some extent. I think when we face a problem or get stuck in a challenging situation that seems beyond our ability to cope with, we shouldn’t show our weakness since we may end up believing that we are really weak. If we just sit and cry, the problem looks bigger and bigger and is somehow nourished by our sense of misery. However, if we always swallow our tears and sorrow, it may burst inside us  and make us feel depressed. I think it is good to cry sometimes because it helps us feel relieved, but at the same time we should remind ourselves that for achieving one’s goal no enemy or obstacle is bigger and worse than desperation and hopelessness.