Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Iranian Blind Spot of Intellectuals


The death of the Saudi King Abdullah has generated a lot of debate heat across the world. In love, as in death, the Kings have always been a point of much debate for a large number of those vying to be called intellectuals who decry Saudi Arabia's human rights violations. We are being three days enlightened over Rauf Badawi's shocking sentence, whereby a ten year prison term is to be supplemented with fifty lashes per week every Friday after evening prayers in public. Stories of daughters being imprisoned or of terrorists being funded in some way or the other keep surfacing. Much ridicule is hurled at the kingdom for its medieval thinking about women rights and the rights of modern day slaves.

The problem with much of this much justified criticism is just one. What is sauce for the goose is just not sauce enough for the gander in the eyes of liberal intellectualism. 'Intellectuals' often talk glowingly about Iran's defiance of the West, particularly the hotbed of capitalism and greed, United States. In their admiration for Iran and it's geo political games, there is often times rank ignorance for the heaps of human rights violations that happen on a daily basis. Just as in Saudi, a woman's testimony is considered to be half in worth to that of a man's. Women can't be seen alone in public without a male relative, since single women can't be trusted to be moral enough. Democracy is just as much a sham - the Ayatollah's supreme council can veto anything.

Very few people would know that the institution of Grand Ayatollah itself is racist like much of Iranian society, since only he who can trace his ancestry back to Fathima, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), can be anointed one. Hence, only someone who is of Arab descent technically can be good enough to lead Iranians on to the path to spirituality. Any challenge to the insulation, particularly from Qom, the real spiritual center of Iran, is dealt with an iron hand. Sufis, minorities, homosexuals and dark skinned people (kaka seyaheh) are all subject to purges akin to Chairman Mao's regime.

Those decrying the death of Saudi King Abdullah will beat their chests in agony on the death of the Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei. This misplaced sense of allying with anyone who really defies the Western powers that be has blinded many of us to the behaviors of regimes. One way or the other, the world has forgotten that the regimes of these two countries are no different in crushing fundamental human rights, and that they are in a battle to the end for supremacy of one sect, one liturgy over the other.

The mirage of an alliance with Islamists to form some kind of Sharia Bolshevik (a term coined by Tarek Fatah) alliance to take on the Devil US had gained quite a bit of credence in recent times. There is a blind spot when it comes to the harassment of liberals in general and Communists in particular, even in Iran. One need not look too far back to know the dangers of trying to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. To try being a  human Rights advocate when you're begin an apologist of Iran just smacks of double standards. If you can't find fault with one, just shut up.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Ten Lesser Known Places to Visit in Delhi This Winter

It is that time of the year again when the pullovers, shawls and trendy jackets come out in full flair, as people flaunt their stuff across the national capital of Delhi. People love to sit out and bask in the sun, and weekends can see popular destinations dotted by people across the city, like India Gate, Qutb Minar, Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, Akshardham and Humayun’s tomb among other perennial shopping destinations like Chandni Chowk. But step aside from these popular jaunts, there are innumerable sites that few know about, and tend to be free of the crowds that throng the otherwise popular places.

Chunnamal Haveli, Chandni Chowk
Being the only preserved haveli or old bungalow in Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, it belonged to Lala Chunnamal, a Khatri businessman who went on to become the richest man in Delhi and whose wealth was envied even by the likes of Mirza Ghalib. Do check it out for its beautiful architecture and lavish interiors, that take you back in time, thanks to the descendants of Lala Chunnamal who still live in the building.


Yamuna Biodiversity Park, Wazirabad
A quaint home for biologically rich wetlands, grassland communities, a wide variety of fruit yielding species and an abundance of medicinal herbs, it is the last preserve for flora and fauna native to the Gangetic basin in and around the national capital of Delhi, many of which were not seen for more than a century. The Yamuna Biodiversity Park is presently spread over an area of approximately 457 acres near Wazirabad village, and is a refreshing break from the noise and chaos of Delhi as an ideal picnic spot.

Qila Rai Pithora, Saket
Believed to have been built in the twelth century by the legendary Tomar Rajput Prithviraj Chauhan, Rai Pithora, also known as Lal Kot, is the oldest surviving remains that chronicle the city of Delhi. The adjoining area was spruced up into a well maintained garden, and you can stroll through the ruins of the fort. You can soak the sun in plenty, while photography enthusiasts can capture a glorious sunset with great pleasure.

Safdarjung’s Tomb, near Safdarjung airport, Delhi
The last grand Mughal structure to be built in Delhi, it is named after the Mughal governor and later vizier (Chief minister) of the Mughal emperor Safdarjung. Marking the subsequent decline of the Mughals, it is made of sandstone much like a smaller version of Humayun’s tomb, only that it has a brown shade. The beautiful tomb is surrounded by the traditional Mughal char-bagh (four gardens), and is home to an innumerable number of Rose ringed Parakeet, who make up for the lack of noise that this place often has.

Feroz Shah Kotla, near Rajghat
One of the seven cities of Delhi, it was set up by the Tughlaq ruler, Feroz Shah, in the fourteenth century and lies across the road to Rajghat, the crematorium cum memorial of Mahatma Gandhi. A particular but rarely noticed attraction here is an Asokan edict that was moved by Feroz Shah from then Punjab to the tomb, making it the second such edict present in Delhi. Flanked by a garden on one side and the entrance being close to the cricket stadium by the same name, the place has in recent times also become a haunt for several faithful who ask djinns for favours.

Tughlqabad Fort, at Mehrauli-Badarpur Road
Close to the Tughlaqbad institutional cum residential area are ruins of a city that sprawls over six kilometers. Founded by the dynasty founder Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, it was abandoned by Mohammad Bin Tughlaq for the disastrous experiment of Daulatabad soon. Legend has it that the Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya had cursed Ghiyas-ud-din that his city would only be occupied by Gujjars, who still live there today.

Asola Bhatti Sanctuary, Mehrauli Badarpur Road
Located on the Southern Ridge, the extension of Aravalli Hills into Delhi, the community land of villages Asola, Shapur, Maidangari, and Bhatti were notified in 1991 as a Sanctuary by Delhi administration. This place is home to several species such as Nilgai, chinkara, porcupines and even Jungle Cat, while being a haven for birdwatchers and lepidopterologists alike especially in winters.

Yogmaya Devi temple and Qutbuddin Kaki’s Dargah, Mehrauli
Two religious places that also signify the communal amity of Delhi, Yogmaya and Qutbuddin’s Dargah are both located in Mehrauli. Yogmaya is an ancient temple where Krishna’s sister who Kamsa had unsuccessfully tried to kill in jail after substitution. The temple dates back to the times of King Hemu, who eventually made way for Akbar’s ascendance to the throne of Delhi. This is the only temple in Delhi to survive Aurangzeb’s onslaught. Around the same time as Akbar, Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, Sufi saint of the Chisti order, came to India and made his base, making it one of the three key centers of Sufi belief in Delhi which is important for Sufis across South Asia. The two are related to each other with a unique festival in October called Phoolwalon ki Sair that signifies the communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims of Mehrauli, and is now Delhi’s official festival.

National Gallery of Modern Art, Janpath (near India Gate Circle)
One of the finest but less discussed places is this gallery that showcases the evolution of modern art in India. It houses some of the rare paintings by the Tagore family, Jamini Roy, Souza, Raza, Hussain and Gaitonde amongst the other Indian masters, and is an oasis of calm in the midst of the anarchic traffic that surrounds India Gate perennially. A must visit for art aficionados and others alike. Of course, pictures are not allowed.

Guru Tegh Bahadur Memorial, Singhu Border (GT-Karnal Road)
This is a recent addition to Delhi, and is a tribute to Martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth Guru of the Sikhs, who had given up his life against the tyranny of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. The memorial is intended to provide and insight into the life and teachings of the ninth Guru and about Sikhism in general. The place also has a beautiful sound and light show every evening in Hindi English and Punjabi between 6 and 8 p.m.

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