Eulogy or Elegy?

First the words;

Eulogy: a speech or piece of writing that praises someone or something highly, especially a tribute to someone who has just died.

Elegy: An elegy is a sad poem, usually written to praise and express sorrow for someone who is dead. 

But eulogies, Wikipedia assures me, can also be delivered at retirement functions and other such events when a person is leaving you but not for the next world. I assume that it is not a crime to deliver a eulogy, so to speak, by simply expressing appreciation and thanks to someone who has been good to you in different ways, without any formal function or speechmaking.

Now, why this article.

In the last week, I received news of the deaths of three people, all very dear to me. One was my aunt, Anees Fatima, the second was my classmate all through school (Hyderabad Public School) from 1965-1972, Chandramohan Agarwal and the third was Mohammed (we called him MP), my dear friend and companion on various jaunts, whose father and uncle were mentors to both of us.

Quite spontaneously, I wrote my thoughts about them, our shared memories about the times we lived in saying how much I appreciated their being in my life. Many people read what I wrote and appreciated it. But it occurred to me (yes, I am stupid and you must have seen this coming long ago) that the only one who didn’t and couldn’t see, read or hear what I had written, was the one about whom I had written. So, was my writing worth it at all? Yes, their relatives appreciated the words in their hour of bereavement, but I didn’t write my thoughts for that. I wrote them to express my appreciation and thanks to the person who died. However, because of the timing, the eulogy became an elegy (a poem in praise of the dead).

I recall something I found very amusing at the time, my friend Siasp Kothawala telling me a funny story about his friend Mariba Shetty. Siasp and I shared a love for horses and wildlife. Mariba Shetty was the Inspector of Police in charge of the Mounted Police battalion in Mysore. We used to visit him there and ride the horses of the Mounted Police, beautifully turned out and trained. We always appreciated the immaculate condition of the stables, mounts, tack, saddlery, uniforms and manners of all the people. All the result of one man focused on quality, Mariba Shetty.

I used to visit Siasp in his forest resort/home, Bamboo Banks in Masanagudi on the edge of the Mudumalai National Park and would ride his horses in the buffer area. One day I was having tea with him when Siasp said to me, ‘I read somewhere in the papers that there was a riot in Mysore and the Mounted Police were called out to control it but in the melee, there was all kinds of violence and Mariba Shetty was killed. I was very sad to hear this and promptly wrote a long letter to his wife, telling her what I thought of her husband, listing all his qualities that I appreciated all through my association with him. Two weeks later, I get a letter from Mariba Shetty which said, ‘Dear Mr. Kothawala, you will be happy to know that the news about my demise was wrong and I am alive and well. I am writing however to say that I am most grateful to you for your kind letter to my wife. I had no idea that you thought so highly of me.’

I am writing this as a reflection and a reminder to myself and to you. Express appreciation to the one who was good to you and added value to your life before they die. Don’t wait for someone to die before you tell them that you love them or are grateful to them.

For after they are dead, everyone else will read and hear what you said, except the only one whose reading and hearing it would have mattered.
Don’t wait for a eulogy to become an elegy.
My dear friend MP

My dear friend MP

Today was the first day in my life when I received the news of the passing away of two of my childhood friends. One was Chandramohan Agarwal, my classmate all through school in the Hyderabad Public School and the other was Mohammed, the son of Nawab Habib Jung. Mohammed (we called him MP) was a couple of years my junior but we were very good friends and rode his father’s horses. 

Nawab Habib Jung finetuned our riding in his old-school way, a very powerful voice with a colorful vocabulary followed by the whip on your behind if you didn’t jump to obey and get it right. It is a tribute to my quick learning that I never felt the whip.

They lived in Begumpet, where Nawab Habib Jung had built his own house on the grounds of his father Nawab Wali-ud-Dowla’s house called Vilayat Manzil (today the Country Club). Nawab Habib Jung’s house was my all-time favorite for its architecture. It had a large central courtyard open to the sky with a lawn in it, in which there was a swimming pool at one end and a low marble platform with inlay work at the other, where he used to pray. All around the courtyard were the bedrooms, the dining room, and the drawing room; all opening onto a wide veranda that ran right around the courtyard. Most of the time we would sit on the veranda and look at the swimming pool and chat because it was so airy and lovely. In the basement was a huge formal drawing room and Nawabsab’s office. Nawabsab was the one who wrote my first reference letter when I applied for a job in the tea gardens. I remember the words exactly, ‘He is keenly interested in saddle seat equitation, has an excellent seat, and shows respect where respect is due.’

Outside the house there was an old well and several huge old trees. At one corner were the stables. MP and I would usually ride near the house in an open area overlooking the Husain Sagar lake. One day I went to see the film ‘The Horseman’ with Omar Sharif as the hero. I was enthralled by the film principally because of the scenes of Buz Kashi and the many sequences of riding on Akhal-Teke horses ( that the film was full of.

I loved horses and riding with a passion. In one scene in the film they showed a riding competition where the riders would pick up a small piece of cloth from the ground with a dagger while riding at a full gallop. My dear friend Anoop (Vicky) Randhawa, MP and I rode our horses to the schooling area. I was thrilled with the display of horsemanship that I had seen in the movie and when we went to ride, I decided to try this maneuver. The problem with this intention, which I discovered too late, was that the Akhal-Teke is 14.3 – 15.5 hands tall, whereas the Thoroughbred that I was riding was a full 17 hands. Also, the gait of the retired racehorses that we used to ride was a hard, pounding run that was very harsh and jolting. It was many years later when I rode an Arab stallion in Saudi Arabia that I realized what comfort in riding was. The Arab is the Rolls Royce of horses and seems to simply float over the earth as it gallops. 

To return to my story, I dropped my handkerchief in the middle of the field. I then wheeled my horse, trotted to the end of the field, and the turned around and came straight down at a full gallop. As the horse neared the handkerchief, I went down over the right shoulder and reached down with my right arm for the handkerchief. I picked it up alright but realized by then that I was too far down over the side and the pounding gait of the horse was further throwing me lower and lower. And sure enough, in another two or three strides, I fell. I landed on my arm and shoulder and there was a terrible shooting pain. I tried to scramble up and found that my right arm was twisted at an unlikely angle and my shoulder had dislocated. I was in severe pain. MP and Vicky came running and helped me up. I told them to take my arm and jerk it hard so that the ball joint would go back into the socket. I have no idea why I said that or how I knew that this was the right thing to do, but it was and my arm was back in its normal position though the pain was still severe. The next item on the agenda was to catch my horse which had spooked at my fall and run away. It took us more than half an hour to calm him down and get close enough to him to catch him. Then, one armed as I was, I mounted him and we got home.

Another time MP and I decided to take our horses and go camping. I was riding a black stallion and MP was riding a chestnut gelding. My horse was rather highly strung and as is the way with many stallions, constantly testing his will against mine. We started in the afternoon after the heat of the day was past and rode from Begumpet all the way to the Green Masjid (Masjid-e-Hussaini) on Road # 3 Banjara Hills intending to go on to the gate of Chiran Palace and then ride along the wall and descend the hill to what we used to call ‘Secret lake’. Seeing it surrounded by buildings today it is clear that it is no longer a secret. This lake connects with the lake on Road # 1 near Taj Banjara hotel which used to be called the Banjara Hotel and was the first hotel on Banjara Hills and the first 5 – star hotel in Hyderabad. There was a dirt track from the Green Masjid to the gate of Chiran Palace. As MP and I rode up to the masjid a small boy threw a fire cracker under the hoofs of my horse. The fire cracker literally exploded under us and the horse bolted. I let him run because he was scared and to try to stop him would have been fruitless. He galloped full tilt all the way to the gate and then stopped, foaming and blowing. MP caught up and we continued our ride.

As we rounded the wall and were crossing a flat granite rock on which my horse’s shoes rang like bells, a brace of partridges exploded in flight right under his nose. He was already in a skittish mood with the fire cracker incident when this happened, he neighed and reared then slipped and fell on his side. I fell with him with my leg under him. By the grace of Allah, I was wearing knee high boots with a very thick and stiff sole designed just for such accidents. The sole protected my foot from being crushed and my helmet kept my head from cracking on the rock. I kicked my feet free of the stirrups and rolled clear of the horse as he scrambled up, keeping a hold on the reins because if he ran away here, catching him would have been nearly impossible.

Once the dust settled I realized that neither of us was any the worse for wear and we decided to go on. We reached the lake a few minutes later. The lake had a dam at one end with a small building at one end of it. The valley floor spread out all around the lake with some Acacia and Tamarind trees dotted on it. We unsaddled and hobbled the horses and put on their halters with long ropes so that they could roll in the grass and graze but would not be able to run away. Then we made our camp. It was a brilliant starlit night with a three-quarter moon and not a human in sight. This was pure wilderness, peaceful and quiet with the occasional ‘chirr’ of the nightjar or the flight of an owl on silent wings floating overhead in search of the unwary mouse. We ate our sandwiches and drank the water from the lake and lived to tell the tale. The water was clean enough to drink. At the time of all this, I was perhaps fifteen and MP was younger.  

Almost thirty years later, Nawab Habib Jung passed away and MP came to Hyderabad from California where he now lived. We met twice and had lunch and reminisced about old times. Memories as fresh as the day they were made. It was wonderful to meet him and we promised to meet again. Little did either of us know that it would be our last meeting. As I write this, a lot of it an extract from my book, ‘It’s my Life’, I recall the many other times and incidents that MP and I shared.

A wonderful thing is memory; without it, pain would be impossible, but so would be pleasure. If I had to choose, I would choose what I have; memories of a dear friend, even with the pain of his passing. May Allah grant him Jannatul Firdous without reckoning.
Come to the Okavango

Come to the Okavango

First there was the dry. Then it rained high up and far away in the mountains. And water flowed. Life giving water filled the river banks and overflowed. Life giving water which itself gives up its life in a few months when it sinks into the sands of the Kalahari Desert. But while it lasted, it would be called by a name that echoes in the halls of fame which list the most beautiful places on earth – the Okavango Delta.
For those who want to read more about this wonderful place, click below:
It is like my arm – our guide and boatman, Happy – told us, talking about its shape. Rain falls on the shoulder, the mountains in Angola and water flows down the arm and into the fingers only to be swallowed up by the sands of the Kalahari, home, among other species, to the magnificent black-maned Kalahari lions. But while it lasts, the water gives life to an entire ecosystem of plants and resident and migrant animals and birds, that has no parallel on earth.
Our boatman introduced himself, ‘I am Happy.’
I said, ‘So am I.’
He said, ‘That is my name.’
I said, ‘That is my state.’
He gave up but first he smiled. The famous African smile, which the people of Botswana, the Batswana (Tswana people speaking Setwsana) seem to represent so well. A smile that starts in the heart and spreads all over the body and shines out of the face. When the man is happy you can see that in every part of his body. Not like the smile that is on the lips but the eyes say something else. If I could get reincarnated, I would wish to return as a boatman on the Okavango.
We landed in Maun; my dear brothers, Ebrahim Patel and Farouk Hassan and my mentor and teacher, Prof. Salman Nadvi. We had never heard of Maun but there it was, nevertheless, proving that whether people know you or not is a mark of their knowledge or lack of it; not a reflection on your significance. Maun has a wonderful little airport batting way above the average. The immigration official was anything but officious. He also had the trademark smile. Asked me how many days I wanted. I said, ‘Five’. He said, ‘I will give you ten.’ I thanked him. On my return on the fifth day, he was again at the desk. I said to him, ‘You gave me five days but I wish I had stayed for ten.’ He said to me, ‘Next time you must stay for ten. But I will give you twenty. Whatever you ask me for, I will give you more.’ That seems to me to be the attitude of the people  of Botswana. Such warm and lovely people.
We walked around our hired car with the company representative inspecting the car and found two scratches on one side. I helpfully offered to add two more on the other, if the man wished, but he emphatically refused my offer. And so, we drove off to the resort where we had booked our accommodation, The Thamalakane River Lodge. I have always wondered why African languages sound so musical. The most mundane word sounds lilting. I think it has to do with the fact that almost every word has three syllables. When you have three syllables, it makes it sound like a song. Thamalakane is not pronounced as it is written but as Tha-ma-la-ka-nay.
We were checked in by a very charming lady with once again a huge smile on her face and shown to our chalets which came with all amenities and a sign outside the door which read, ‘Beware of hippos and crocodiles.’ That was just in case you forgot that you were in Africa in the Okavango Delta. I don’t know about wandering crocs but I heard a hippo loud and clear late one night. So, the sign was not for scenic effect alone. One ‘amenity’ that the chalets have, is a four-foot-high curving wall between the bedroom and bathroom. Nothing more. The resultant potential for auditory and olfactory sensations is impressive, to say the least. One is well-advised not to eat too many baked beans or peanuts for fear of replicating the sound effects of the Battle of the Bulge. This is a classic example of design before utility, even before common sense which not only takes away useable space from the bedroom but also ensures an assault on the senses that one can well do without. There is a point to be made about privacy and that intimacy needs to be limited within boundaries. Listening (and more) to your room partner (no matter your relationship with them) discharging their responsibilities is not an experience to be sought. 
The first morning we were scheduled to go to Moremi Game Reserve
This is entirely inside the Okavango and has an area of 5000 square kilometers, which gives you an idea of how big the Okavango is. After the rains, it becomes totally water bound and most parts can’t be reached overland. But when we went, though there had been rains, it was motorable. We got into our open Land Cruiser (the workhorse of Africa) and drove out of our lodge. Conversationally, Farouk Bhai asked the ranger driving the vehicle, ‘How far is Moremi?’ He said, ’160 km to the gate.’ That is when it struck me that sitting in a fast-moving open safari vehicle was not the most comfortable way to travel. What we should have done is to have driven in our hired car to the gate and then boarded the safari vehicle at the gate. Hindsight is always 20:20. Meanwhile we had a freezing cold drive ahead.
Driving through rural Botswana is different from driving through rural South Africa. South Africa has more developed infrastructure, better roads, electricity and more upmarket cars on the roads. There seem to be no speed limits posted on these Botswanian roads, but speed is limited by the road. Occasionally you do see a police car and I understand that you can be stopped for overspeeding. Botswanan Police have a very admirable reputation. Unlike the police in many other countries including mine, Botswanan Police strangely seem to think that the law is not open to interpretation, especially interpretation that is sought to be facilitated by the transfer of wealth from one pocket into another. Anyone who is stopped for a misdemeanor in Botswana had better come clean and quietly pay the fine unless he is seeking state hospitality. Going by the standards of Botswanan hospitality and the soft and easy going nature of the Tswana people, I dare say that may not be an end to be feared, but I would rather pay for my keep rather than the other way around. All this by way of filing-in color. We didn’t meet any police nor did we need to seek state hospitality.
Why do roads get corrugated? This one was. Driving fast on a corrugated road is a hard-core way to get a vibrator massage. At the end of 160 km, my bones, teeth and brain were all rattling. Driving slowly makes it much worse so driving fast, it had to be. Once you get used to the cold wind in your eyes and your eyes have wept enough tears, your sight clears and you see small holdings on either side of the road. Small homes with large yards, filled with country chickens, ducks, turkeys and goats. There are cattle everywhere and horses and more donkeys than I have ever seen except in parliaments. And like those, these are also jealously guarded. I was told that the worst crime on a Botswanan road is to knock down a donkey. But thankfully given their lethargy and contentment with their side of the fence, the chances of knocking one down are negligible unless you set out to do this because you have a grudge against a particular beast. Where there are horses and donkeys, there are also mules. Every single animal of every kind in top condition. That is what hits you first. Sleek, well cared for animals, well fed and well kept. I didn’t see a single animal out of condition in all the many hundreds of kilometers we drove in that area.
The area is designated Code Red, meaning that it is susceptible to Rinderpest, a dreaded cattle disease that is transmitted by the Cape Buffalo which are in the forests. As such there are fences to keep them there and not allow them to wander into inhabited areas. But fences are fences and buffalo are buffalo and the inevitable happens. What being in the Code Red area means is that beef produced in this area must be consumed in this area itself and can’t be transported out of the area. This is done to prevent the spread of Rinderpest to other parts of the country. Not a very happy prospect if you are a beef cattle farmer in this area but that is how it is.
In Moremi, what we saw lots of were single male elephants. Some in Musth, with the telltale secretions from the glands behind the ear as well as discolored hindlegs thanks to their almost constant urinating in this period. An elephant in Musth is not someone you want to meet, up close. And we didn’t. But they were a magnificent sight with massive tusks. One had a couple of other males as companions; an old bull with two Askaris (guards). Another one was bathing and got disturbed when we turned up and flared his ears and shook his head to express his opinion. Another was busy digging for water in a waterhole that was damp but has no water in it. “But where are the herds?”, I asked the ranger. Further inside the reserve, was his guess. Lots of Mopani trees, favorite elephant food, on both sides of the cattle fence that I mentioned above. However, inside the fence they are all cropped short as if by a hedge cutter. While outside the fence they grow tall and shady. Evidence of the attention of elephants which eat all new growth and so the tree never grows tall where there are elephant herds feeding on them. You can see this in Kruger National Park also; hundreds of acres of neatly cropped Mopani. Wonderful creatures, elephants. My favorite among the Big Five. 


In Moremi we also saw the Tsessebe antelope, the fastest of all African antelopes, very rare in the Kruger but much more common here; a giraffe making faces at us and ostriches with their superior looks down the nose.
We stopped for a picnic lunch on the bank of a lake, under some sausage trees. These have a gourd fruit which is like a very long and fat sausage. The fruit is supposed to have legendary properties related to human reproduction which I am sure you can guess. If you can’t, then rejoice at the fact that you have a clean mind. The alleged properties are purely legendary and fictitious, so not to worry. What is more interesting about these trees is that it is from their trunks that the famous Mokoro (a dugout canoe) of the Okavango is made.
You must be brave and suicidal in equal measure to sit in a Mokoro in a place that is populated by hippos and monster crocs, but people do. Mokoro are the most common means of travel for local people and for tourists who go camping on the islands of the Okavango. Today, the government has prohibited the cutting of sausage trees to make canoes and so Mokoro are made of fiberglass. But you can still find plenty of authentic wooden Mokoro if you wish to take a ride. The boatman stands and poles it like the Shikara boatmen of Kashmir or the Gondolas of Venice, with the exception that in those places, you are not likely to meet a resident hippo with territorial tendencies or a sovereign citizen Nile Croc. Not an encounter to be wished for.
As we drove off, I spotted a Pied Lapwing; sitting on eggs in her nest and refused to move even when the wheels of the Land Cruiser were inches away. It simply sat still like a statue, which is its most common defense against predators. If that fails, then it will take off and pretend that one wing is broken and goes away from the nest, calling plaintively until it has succeeded in drawing the predator far away from the nest, before it flies away. Then it makes a series of dive attacks on the predator until it drives it away completely. It is amazing to see how this small bird with almost nothing to defend itself, makes up for that in spirit and courage.
The next day we took an all-day boat ride, a flat-bottomed aluminum boat powered by an outboard motor, Happy at the wheel, and went up into the Okavango for over 150 kilometers. Imagine water so clean that you can see the bottom clearly 3-4 meters below, carpeted by multicolored lilies as far as the eye can see. Not a single plastic bag or piece of paper or cigarette to mar the landscape in hundreds of miles of wilderness. African Jacanas abound and wait until your boat is almost on them and then take off in low flight with their long stick-like legs and elongated web-less feet trailing behind. Imagine heaven or come to the Okavango. 
As you proceed, you will see the eyes and snout of a hippo bull staking out his territory. If you get too close, he will dive and can remain underwater for over half an hour. Usually he will surface a distance away and face you again. When you are in a motorboat this is an interesting sight. In a Mokoro, you don’t want to see it. For if he decides that you are a threat, he can submerge and surface under you and give you a very real chance at becoming a historical figure. Hippos kill more people annually in Africa than all other animals combined, so they are a real threat, not be scoffed at.
Lots of birds in the Okavango of which African Fish Eagles with their striking plumage, white head, neck and a bib on the chest, stand out miles away. If there is a tall tree, you can rest assured that you will find an African Fish Eagle on it, scanning all around for prey. The other very common bird is the African Jacana, busily walking on water – actually, running on its especially adapted feet on the lily pads which cover almost all open water in the Okavango. You will see all species of Kingfisher but the black and white, Pied Kingfisher seems to be the most common. 
Then there are Egyptian geese, sunning themselves close to a huge crocodile. Plenty of Nile Crocodiles in this place, some of them real monsters. 
Imagine driving through a narrow channel through head-high reed-beds where you can’t see on either side anything except impenetrable reeds, waving in the breeze. The reed-beds give way once again to lily carpets interspersed with islands. These islands are mostly the result of birds depositing seeds on termite mounds. Here is a very interesting account of how these islands are formed.
The islands are home to wildlife, Lechwee antelope, elephant, hippo, lions, leopard and in some places, cheetah. Warthog and other smaller game like jackals, hyena and occasionally wild dog also inhabit the islands. As the day progresses and the sun comes out, you are likely to see crocodiles sunning themselves on the edges of islands, always within reach of the water, to slide into at the slightest hint of danger. Although looking at some of the monsters, you can see that nothing except humans are any danger to them. These islands range in size from literally termite mounds to vast tracts of land, the biggest of them being Chief’s Island. This used to be the private hunting reserve of the tribal chief and is now a thriving tourist hub. You can fly in to Chief’s Island from Maun or drive there or take a boat.
Sitting in the bow of our boat, with the wind blowing through my fast disappearing hair, I couldn’t but think of the prospect of meeting another boat traveling in the opposite direction at the same speed. Quite likely and scary especially around the many bends. Even less happy is the thought of being in a Mokoro and meeting a boat like this come at you round a bend. The problem is that even if the boatman stops his boat, which happens quite easily because given the resistance of water, if he throttles down, the boat comes to a halt; the bow wave that it creates, doesn’t stop with the boat. A motorboat traveling fast, can create a wave big enough to completely swamp and sink a Mokoro. As I said, not a happy thought.
We stop at an island for lunch, only to discover that the hotel has packed us non-halal food. That is when we discover how little we really need to eat. One apple each and a small packet of chips, washed down with water. Happy is very unhappy with this development and the hotel’s failure and promises to take up the issue with them while proceeding to demolish our non-shariah compatible chicken et al.  All at our invitation of course. No point in wasting food, is there?
Sitting on the ‘beach’ of the island (which Happy said was about 10 sq km in size) watching the Okavango Delta before us, I could only marvel at the cycle of beginning and end that the delta represents. From the dry season when it is desert, to the wet, when it is a sea of water giving life to many. Then a few months later the water sinks into the sand once again to repeat the cycle once again. Our ‘lunch’ finished, we get back on board the boat once again to resume our journey back to the Thamalakane River Lodge.
Water everywhere with lilies now preparing to shut shop for the night. The hippo’s grunting roar as we pass, a greeting or warning, as you may like to interpret it. A Saddle-billed stork, stalking his way back from the water’s edge. Lots of Letchwee antelopes, horned males with their harems. They used to be called Red Letchwee but I understand they have been renamed, Common Antelope, a development to which I am sure they would take exception if they knew. But it gives you an idea about their numbers. 
As we progress, the sun which has been traveling its course, finally extinguishes itself in the waters of the Delta, but not before giving us a final spectacular display of orange and red. A new display every day that changes minute by minute. Never to be repeated. Infinite variety to delight the senses and draw the mind to the Creator of it all.
The Okavango is a place to be visited again and again and never to be forgotten.
For all my photos of the Okavango and Moremi, please go to :
Okavango Delta – Botswana –


Manjapettai – Yellow Ridge

Manjapettai – Yellow Ridge

In Lower Sheikalmudi Estate, on the other side of Sholayar Dam in the Anamallais, we had a coffee area which was adjacent to the reserve forest. The coffee presented open grazing area to the Sambar and Gaur that live in the reserve forest. They did not damage the coffee itself but would feed on the grass and shrubs that grew in the fields. I set up two or three salt licks in this area to attract these animals and to get them used to coming into our area so that we could watch and photograph them. For this I got some bricks of rock salt from the Forest Department and cleared small patches in the grass to arrange them. Once the animals discovered them we had a huge herd of Gaur, about thirty-five of them, who took up residence in the coffee area. They would come down from the hills every evening as the sun went down and would leave only the next morning once our workers started to arrive in the fields. They would be joined by several Sambar hinds and stags so that when I would drive into the coffee area at night, I would see this big herd lying down and chewing the cud. It was almost like seeing domestic cattle at rest; the Gaur had become so used to us. Grazing animals love salt, which they get from deposits in the soil. Carnivores get it from the blood of their prey. So if you put out some salt in the forest you were absolutely sure to get anything which was in the vicinity to come visit.

If you walked to the end of the coffee area and entered the forest, taking the small pathway leading up the hill, you would pass under the heavy shade of big leaved, tall trees. Lining the path were lovely light green big leaved shrubs, which if you didn’t know what they were and took one in your hand, it would prove to be a very painful and potentially dangerous experience. These were stinging nettles called locally Anaimarti (the chaser away of elephants). The leaves have poisonous hair on them, which produce anything from painful rashes, to blisters, to high fever, and delirium, depending on your level of tolerance. As you walk along this path it is a good idea to keep all your senses functioning. The thick undergrowth can and does hide anything. As you continue climbing steadily, getting sweatier by the minute due to a lack of breeze, you come to a small flat rock on your right a little way inside the forest. If you walk silently you will almost always see the resident cobra that likes to sun himself on that rock. Sometimes you will see his skin, which he has shed and then you must be very careful because he is almost blind for a while and extremely irritable.

As you continue onwards, you will come out of the forest into an open area which is a sheet of rock. This area stretches about three kilometers all the way up to the ridge beyond which the forest descends three-thousand feet down to the backwaters of Parambikulam Lake. This sheet of rock is covered with a patchy lichen growth almost all over which becomes yellow when it matures and so it is called Manjapettai (Yellow Ridge). This is also where you will get the first breath of cool breeze, most welcome on your hot and damp brow. There is a large clump of thorny bush right before you and almost surely you will hear the ‘Dhank’ of a Sambar doe as she bolts out of the bush and gallops down the thirty-degree rocky slope at a speed that would certainly topple a horse and break its neck.

If you continue to climb then you would eventually come to the top of Manjapettai, which was a small flat plateau through which flowed a small perennial stream. I’d had a machan (platform) built on a tree at the edge of the forest overlooking the stream, which emptied into a small pool and then went down the slope of Manjapettai. I had cleared a small pathway to get to it, but without disturbing the area or its animals. The machan was halfway up the tree at a height of about twenty feet. It was quite substantial and could comfortably seat four people. We would sit there late into the night watching animals come to drink at the pool. It was an amazing experience to suddenly see a shadow move and realise that what you had been looking at was not a shadow at all but a Gaur bull; the herd leader who was watching to see if the coast was clear to signal his herd to follow him to the water. This forest had tigers and so the Gaur and Sambar, which are its main prey were very cautious.

We once had a full-grown Gaur cow killed by a tiger in our coffee area. At first the Forest Guards came and tried to accuse us of having shot the animal in an attempt to extract some silence money. But I would have none of that and demanded that the DFO come to inspect. When he came, I took him to the carcass and showed him the telltale claw marks of the tiger. The tiger attacks from behind and rides the animal, and as it gallops in panic, the tiger reaches forward and hooks its claws into the animal’s nose and draws its head back, biting into the back of the neck to get at the spinal cord until the animal falls and breaks its neck. If you see the neck of a Gaur, how huge and muscular it is, you can imagine the strength of the tiger which can force that neck to bend back until it makes the animal fall. Tigers generally go for juveniles or cows, which are smaller. The big bulls are immune to everything except men and old age. The DFO (District Forest Officer) was more knowledgeable than the Forest Guard and so the matter was resolved. 

You sat in the machan very still, secure in the knowledge that you were invisible unless you moved. Though the game viewing was amazing, the stillness made you very stiff, a relatively small price to pay for the privilege of watching wild animals in their habitat. In the early hours of the morning, after all animal movement had ceased and it started getting bitterly cold, which it does in the forest at that elevation, we would come down onto the rock, light a nice big fire and warm ourselves and spend the rest of the night sleeping on the rock around the fire. Then in the morning we would re-kindle the fire and put on the tea pot and watch the sun come up over the horizon. I know many people lived in Lower Sheikalmudi, but I don’t know of anyone other than myself and Suresh Menon, who was my assistant at the time, who enjoyed the beauty of the forest like we did. It was a rare privilege and we appreciated every minute of it.

Is it a bird or is it a plane? Homeschooling concerns

Is it a bird or is it a plane? Homeschooling concerns

Of late I, have been reading many articles on ‘Homeschooling’ – which term when written like this seems to have acquired the status of legitimacy instead of being wrong spelling. The need for a hyphen is apparently no longer felt. ‘Home’ and ‘School’ are evidently no longer two different places, either geographically, physically or emotionally.
The latest of these articles is below. A very dear friend who homeschools (verb) sent me this article which got me motivated to write my own.
My own education was simultaneously in a Madrassa (Jamia Ilahiyat Nooria) and one of the finest secular schools in India (Hyderabad Public School) and the equivalent of homeschooling with Mohini Rajan and Venkat Rama Reddy (read about it in my book, ‘It’s my Life’, Kindle Later I graduated in History, Political Science and Urdu and post-graduated in Management (IIMA) and Applied Behavioural Science (ISABS). My father was a medical doctor with a love for literature and poetry which he shared (even imposed) on his children. And a mother who was a poet (among many other things). My childhood and upbringing was not ‘normal’ in any sense of the term. And there I believe lies the trick in making learning effective. It is less to do with the location (home or school) or the child and his or her ability to choose (more on this later) but much more on the quality and variety of input the child receives.
Take this quote from the article: “If Milva McDonald’s girls don’t like the subject, she told Boston Magazine, then they move on to something else. “I wanted them to be in charge of their own education and decide what they were interested in, and not have someone else telling them what to do and what they were good at,” she says.”
To be in charge of making choices one must first be informed about what they are and what they are likely to lead to. Choice can’t be left simply to subjective likes and dislikes. I don’t mean to imply that Milva does or did that. My point is that people can’t make intelligent and productive choices until they understand the consequences of their choice. I am making a point relating to the ‘qualification’ of parents to become homeschool teachers and saying that homeschool teacher education plays a huge role in the quality of homeschooling. For homeschooling to adequately prepare positive and productive citizens of the world, whether or not they go to Harvard, it is essential that the child is exposed to a variety of life experiences, challenges, joys and grief, success and failure, competition and collaboration. It is essential that the child is grounded in his culture, faith and religion and is then exposed to other cultures, faiths and religions which are very different from his own. It is essential that before being exposed to difference and diversity, he has the tools to deal with this experience so that he learns without confusion or anger and is responsive and not reactive.
My specialization as a leadership development expert with a global practice is in helping technical specialists transition into leadership and management roles. What I have noticed with great alarm is the effect of a totally skewed ‘education’ that prepares people with advanced technical knowledge but with an ignorance about the world that would have been alarming at best, were it not for the fact that it is into the hands of such technical experts that we have given over the most dangerous tools and toys that we own. We didn’t stop to ask while training them what the value was of learning about the world that they were going to apply their technology to. 
As a result of this skew in learning at its most benign level we have the inconvenience of bad design. But at its most malignant level we have weapons of mass destruction which as we speak are being used by the most powerful nation in the world in seven theatres of war, killing millions of people and rendering tens of millions homeless; destroying lives and economies and doing all this without any sanction from their own people and without any reference to democratic process. I bet not a single one of those making life and death decisions about others has read ‘War and Peace’. Ask, ‘What if they had?’
I also have an interest in politics which is the greatest soap opera in the world with consequences that should give us sleepless nights. Shows the value of ignorance, that most of us sleep happily having made choices – actively or passively – which can potentially result in the complete destruction of our world. Choices made by people who don’t understand their consequences are not free from consequences. Ignorant people are still capable of wreaking great havoc as we are perhaps liable to discover in the coming years, having handed over our world to people that most homeschooling parents would never have chosen to mentor their children.
All this is not the fault of homeschooling of course but underlines the importance of schooling the ‘teachers’. Hometeachers (my coinage) must be exposed to a holistic experience of life or at the very least an appreciation of the need for holistic experience. Sadly, with many technologists (who all seem to be clamoring for homeschooling) I have seen an arrogance about their own ignorance about the rest of the world apart from their technology which should have been embarrassing. I have been horrified to hear some of them brush aside facts about natural history, literature, poetry, art and biology as being of no consequence. I would love to become a bionic man but I am not. I live, breathe, love, hurt, laugh and cry. I grow strong and weak. I get sick, feel hungry, need clean water and air. My spirit soars when I hear a song written a hundred years ago, or listen to the recitation of a supernatural book that was sent to earth fifteen hundred years ago.
Yet my fate on this earth, opportunities in life, what happens to my money (taxes), what is given preference over what (medical research over military research) is to be decided by someone who doesn’t know the difference between a Constable that hangs on a wall and another who directs traffic. But the benefit of ignorance is that it saves you from embarrassment. Therefore, such a technologist is happily able to create ‘bug splats’ playing computer games and go home at the end of his or her work shift to sleep with a peaceful conscience. High technology with low humanity is a deadly combination. Ask the bug spalts.
If people with such attitudes about what is important and what is not, homeschool their children, then you can imagine the results. I have read Sir Ken Robinson’s book, ‘Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution’ and fully endorse his views. But this as well as all others who I have read, assume that homeschooling parents are somehow adequately prepared to fulfill the hugely complex task that they have chosen to undertake. The importance of education in values, ethics, morals, literature, poetry and humanities has decreased over time and we have learnt to value education on one parameter only. How much money can I make in it? That is why IT engineering is the most popular subject while pure science has no takers. Even though it is pure science that pushes the frontiers of our understanding of the world. But pure science graduates generally have career prospects (high paying jobs wise) going south while IT grads’ careers go north and so everyone and his mouse wants to become a geek and leave seeking knowledge, broaden the horizons of humanity, create uplifters of the spirit and moral alerts to, who?
Human life is too short for one to live it fully, learn from it enough and teach it to others. That is why we have language and books. Books transcend the boundary of death and allow the voice of the author to talk down to generations unborn when the book was written. Generations who have a choice. Read, or painfully learn lessons which had already been learned.
Most homeschooling parents that I have met (granted that may not be a statistically valid sample size) seem to have one overriding concern; to protect their children from the ‘big-bad-world-out-there’, which begins in the state (or private) school. The reality however, and I am sure they realize it even if they don’t want to face it, is that the big-bad-world is not out there but that we are immersed in it. We and our children. So, what must be done is not to simply protect our children from it, but teach them how to cope with it and give them the tools to change it. That is the only way to truly save them and to ensure that the badness ends with them and others don’t have to inherit it and its evil. I submit that to be able to do that, you Mr & Mrs Homeschooling Parent must upgrade your knowledge and skills. You can only give what you have and so the question to ask is, ‘What do I have?’
While you are about it, remember the village. It takes an entire village to bring up a child – as they say. So, what and where is your village? Who live in it? What resources can they bring to the table and why should they? The last part relates to your relationship with them. Why is more important than what because unless the why is answered, the what will remain out of scope. Above all else it comes from holding the absolute and unshakeable belief that everyone in the village is important; critically important. That it is their difference and not their similarity which makes them so valuable and so that diversity must be respected, protected and honored. It is when we learn to accept our own ignorance without blame, accept the diversity of others without judging them according to our own values, hold confidently to our own values (your difference is also equally important and so no need to be apologetic about it); that we will be able to re-create the world into a form that we will not be embarrassed to own as our bequest.

Of Mistakes and Crimes

A mistake is one that is made by mistake (sic) and a crime is one that is done deliberately.

A mistake must obviously be forgiven. A crime is culpable but can also be forgiven. This is the peculiarity of Islamic Law that even a crime as serious as murder can simply be forgiven by the family of the deceased. Mercy is the driving force behind all forgiveness and that is because we all need it. We all need mercy of our fellow humans and we all need the mercy of Allah because we all make mistakes. The best of us makes mistakes and the best of us are those who make mistakes and seek forgiveness.

Anas ibn Malikt reported: Rasoolullah  said, “All of the children of Adam are sinners, and the best of sinners are those who repent.”   [Sunan Ibn Majah 4251]

Abu Hurairaht reported: Rasoolullah said, “By the One in Whose Hand my soul is! If you do not commit sins, Allah would replace you with a people who would commit sins and seek forgiveness from Allah; and Allah will certainly forgive them.” [Muslim].

Allah applauded those who forgive and advised forgiveness and said:

الَّذِينَ يُنفِقُونَ فِي السَّرَّاء وَالضَّرَّاء وَالْكَاظِمِينَ الْغَيْظَ وَالْعَافِينَ عَنِ النَّاسِ وَاللّهُ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

A’al Imraan 3: 134.   Those who spend [chairty] in prosperity and in adversity, who suppress anger, and who pardon people; verily, Allah loves Al-Muhsinun (people who seek to please Allahby acting with excellence)

Allahmentioned the Bani Israeel and that they had reneged on the covenant with Him and disobeyed Him, yet He advised Rasoolullahto forgive them and overlook their faults. He said:
فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاصْفَحْ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

Ma’aida 5: 13. ….. But forgive them, and overlook (their misdeeds). Verily, Allah loves Al-Muhsinun.

I decided to write this because recently there have been three cases where a scholar made a mistake in a speech and people attacked him, pronounced Takfeer on him and tried their best to destroy his reputation. All this in my view is a sign of our own ignorance and arrogance and a great loss to all of us. Who gains if one of our scholars is defamed and all his work is destroyed because he made one mistake? So, let us see why this happens and what we should do.

I am very fond of horse riding. Many a time while out riding cross-country over rough terrain, I have had my horse stumble. Once so badly that I was thrown off. However, not once did I shoot the horse because he stumbled. On the contrary I remind myself that the most common causes for a horse to stumble are that it is too exhausted (my fault) or that I was holding the reins too loosely (my fault) or that I was pushing the horse too fast over rough ground (my fault). I therefore pick myself off the ground, thank Allahthat I didn’t break anything, check to see if the horse was alright, then mount up and off we go, now both of us wiser for the stumble.

Scholars, religious or not, are human. They are not infallible and I don’t know of a single one that claimed that he or she was. They make mistakes, like, believe it or not, we Jahiloon (I speak for myself) do. That merely proves the first point, that they are human. The difference is that since they dedicate their lives to studying, digesting, experiencing, understanding and then communicating knowledge to us, they and their mistakes are in the public space. Take the case of an Imam who makes a mistake in recitation or forgets the number of Raka’at. Which one of us has not done the same? 

When a scholar makes a mistake while he or she is teaching, it is in the public space. They are vulnerable. Not because they are evil Shayateen who got caught in a trap. But because they took the trouble to study and teach us, while we were busy chasing dollars. Nothing wrong with chasing Halaal dollars but what about those who consciously give up that opportunity to do our work for us and to help us to learn our religion, connect us to Allah and Rasoolullahand help us to be better human beings? I don’t know a single scholar who is so stupid that he doesn’t know that if he simply stopped teaching, he wouldn’t have to face what he is facing today.

Is that what we want? For all our scholars to retreat into a shell and leave us to learn whatever we can on our own? After all, to study the Deen is our personal responsibility and it is not the scholar’s responsibility to teach any particular group of people. As long as he is communicating his or her knowledge to the people; any people; he is fine before Allah.

What must we do when a scholar makes a mistake?

1.      Remind yourself that the scholar is the horse that is carrying you over rough ground in the wilderness and he stumbled. (All scholars, I beg your forgiveness for giving this example).

2.      Remind yourself that without the horse you will probably perish while the horse can run off and live happily ever after without having to carry you on his back.

3.      Thank Allahthat you are not standing in his place having to face the reactions of the likes of us for having made a mistake (for God’s sake!!)

4.      Remind yourself that one day you and I will have to stand before Allahwith a lot worse than whatever mistake the scholar made and will need, not Allah’s justice, but His Mercy and Forgiveness.

5.    Remind yourself that Rasoolullahtold us that Allahwill show mercy to those who show mercy to the inhabitants of the earth.

6.      Seek forgiveness for the scholar with Allah.

7.      And defend the scholar against those who seek to attack him because he made a mistake because we know that the good from that scholar far and away outweighs whatever mistake that he may have made.

8.    And because we recognize that we need that scholar and all other scholars like him or her.

9.  And finally, remind ourselves, that a mistake is made so that Allahmay test our forgiveness. Otherwise it was in the power of Allahto ensure that the scholar who was speaking about His religion, never made a mistake.

10.   Therefore, when we don’t forgive and instead attack the person, it is we who have failed the test. A test based on which perhaps, Allahwill decide to deal with us accordingly. I ask Allahfor His Mercy and Forgiveness and protection from His anger.

Rasoolullah told us: “Whoever conceals [the faults of] a Muslim, Allah will conceal [his faults] in this life and the Hereafter.”

The matter of concealing the faults of others is mentioned in numerous Ahadith of Rasoolullah, like this one: “O gathering who believe with their tongues but faith has yet to enter into their hearts, do not backbite the Muslims. And do not search into their private matters. Whoever searches for their private matters will have Allah  follow up his private matters. And whose private matters Allah  follows, He will expose him even [if his act were done] in his house.” [Musnad Ahmad and Abu Dawood]

What must a scholar do if he or she makes a mistake?

Sadly, I have seen a lack of maturity and patience on the other side as well. Some scholars forget that they are human and that if they made a mistake that was the natural thing to do. So, instead of simply asking forgiveness, admitting unconditionally that they were wrong and moving on, they insist on finding all kinds of ‘proof’ (Daleel) for their mistakes. They waste time and energy in trying to justify the mistake, claim that it was not a mistake at all and the entire fault of misunderstanding lies with the listeners. Egos come in. Shaytaan has a field day and the vicious cycle begins.

Why does this happen?

1.      Imam An-Nawawi advised us and said, ‘Not everything that is known, needs to be communicated. Not everything that is heard needs to be broadcast.’ One of the major reasons why scholars get into trouble is because they say in public what should be said in private to students who are capable of understanding it.

2.     In the discussion on the Names and Attributes of Allah in Kitab ut Tawheed, Chapter 38 in Sahih Bukhari, Ali bin Abi Talibt’s advice is mentioned where he is reported to have said: “Speak to the people in a way that they can understand. Would you like that Allah and His Messenger be denied?”

Ali Ibn Abi Talibt advised teachers and scholars to guide people by speaking to them in a manner suited to their intellects in order that they may understand, and not to say things to them which may be above their level of comprehension which may confuse them, causing them to deny something from the Qur’an or Sunnah resulting in their falling into spiritual conflict and perhaps even committing Kufr (denying Allah or Rasoolullah) without being aware of it.

3.     By implication, this is good advice to follow with respect to anything that we want to say in public. Speak at LCM; I call it. LCM = Lowest Common Denominator. Speak at a level where a secondary school student can understand you. That is the real mark of the scholar. To be able to simplify complex matters and make them understandable for everyone. Not to speak at such a high level of erudition that nobody understands what you say and many misunderstand it. In any case, trying to show off your knowledge is a serious lapse of Ikhlaas un Niyyah (sincerity of intention).

Remember Sayyidina Omar ibn Al-Khattabt when the woman corrected him in public. He accepted the correction and said openly and clearly, “Omar is wrong and the women is right.”

Okay, enough said. For a quick checklist:

1.      Scholar makes mistake. Say, “Wow! He is human, just like me. Boy! Am I glad, I am not in his place! May Allah forgive him and guide him.”

2.     Defend the scholar. Tell people, ‘Hey man! Lay off. It could be you or me in his place, if we’d had his knowledge and concern for us. Don’t punish the man for taking the trouble to work for all our welfare.”  

On the authority of Abu Hurairat who reported that Rasoolullah said, “Whoever relieves a believer’s distress of the distressful aspects of this world, Allah will rescue him from a difficulty of the difficulties of the Hereafter. Whoever alleviates [the situation of] one in dire straits who cannot repay his debt, Allah will alleviate his lot in both this world and in the Hereafter. Whoever conceals [the faults of] a Muslim, Allah will conceal [his faults] in this life and the Hereafter. Allah helps a slave as long as the slave helps his brother. Whoever follows a path in order to seek knowledge thereby, Allah will make easy for him, due to that, a path to Jannah. No people gather together in a house of the houses of Allah, reciting the Book of Allah and studying it among themselves, except that tranquility descends upon them, mercy covers them, the angels surround them and Allah mentions them to those in His presence. Whoever is slowed by his deeds will not be hastened forward by his lineage.” [Muslim]

I ask Allah for His mercy.