Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On Shaky Ground

My taxi driver this morning was a Pathan from Pakistan, near the border with Afghanistan. The short drive was a pleasant one, because after asking if I'd mind some recorded music, he turned on a tape of Pashtun songs. It was a lilting, repetitive tune, and in bits and pieces it reminded of some Hindi film song or the other, especially from the black and white era. I think one of the main new learnings of moving to Dubai has been the chance to speak to Pakistanis, hear their political views, tap to Pashtun music, learn to make out Pathans by their accent, and to be able to think of them as people and not just an ethnic-group statistic.

And so the news of the earthquake near Quetta, which happened just a few hours before that, was twice as shocking. It's not been long enough since the last one, in early October 2005. And now, they're on their knees in a tragic repetition of last time. Three years is not enough time for people to start trusting the ground beneath their feet again.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Lights from the Darkness

When I lived in Hauz Khas in Delhi, our first donation-seekers for Diwali came from the Blind Relief Association. A young man with a happy smile and vacant eyes would be accompanied by a volunteer, and in exchange for a cotton duster and 2 tall, white candles we would hand over our donation of the year. It never occurred to me then that here was someone giving us candles who would never be able to see the light they spread.

At Diwali everyone sends wishes for joy and prosperity. Ornate and opulent Lakshmis decorate walls. Shopkeepers open fresh account books. Firecrackers cost a bomb. It's all about noise and show. But in the middle of it all, as we light up our rooms with a soft glow, as we crouch on the floor to perfect a rangoli, or gaze excitedly at fireworks in the sky, we forget how lucky we are to have the eyes to see it.

I'm in Dubai this year. So Diwali will be less of the noise and more of the lights. And as I give my ears a rest and focus on just seeing all the lights around me, I'm just going to count myself lucky that I can really see the beauty all around me.