Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Food from various religious traditions

Here are some resources on food from various religious traditions:

Syllabus of a course on food and religion

Jainism and food

Sikhism and food
Sikh religion is known for its tradition of Langar (the food kitchen) where food is served to all visitors of the Gurdwara (their place of worship). Here is a link to langar food recipes:

Jewish food
Jewish food is well known in America. We have all seen (and/or eaten) Challah, Bagels and Lox,
Matzah Ball Soup, Knishes, Blintzes etc.

For more information:
There are many sites decided to Jewish food recipes and other information including their dietary restrictions!

Hindu Food
Recipes for various Hindu festivals

Buddhist Delight

Korean temple food

Parsi food

Muslim traditions
Ramadan/Ramzan food

The Sufi cookbook

Ashura food

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The matriarch is gone

Nani is no more. She breathed her last breath on April 24, 2017 in Karachi in Choto Mama's house. Mama, who is a marine engineer, gone for work and on that  day his ship was near Abu Dhabi. Nani did not have anyone around her when she passed away.. Mami (Mama's wife) and the children were outside. When mami came inside the house, Nani's body was bent, in a prayer posture, seemed frozen in time. Perhaps she passed away while praying a few hours ago. I do not know what were her final thoughts, I will never know that. At that time, I, who live thousands of mile away in a place 15 hours behind in time zone, was deep asleep at the time of her passing. That night, I was dreaming in which she was cooking fish for me... Alas, her beloved son, one the very few people in this world who actually loved her was not there in her final moments!

Her death was expected, it was neither sudden nor shocking, as she was old and was diabetic. She was in some way some extremely lucky and other ways extremely unlucky.. There were many who have been waiting for her death for several decades, as one can guess, they were relatives who came to her family through marriage and somehow started considering her enemy...

Nani, born Jehan Ara was the darling daughter of Ali Nawaz Chaudhry (son of Aleph Chaudhry?) and Sadia Begum. She was born in Nematabad, British India (now Bangladesh) in the year 1930 (or perhaps 1929). In her days and in her family there was not much emphasis in record keeping. Her mother died when she was only 5. Her father, a hard working man employed by the British Govt. as Post Master in his area, married again, but he was rarely home due to his work commitments. His second wife also died leaving a son.

Nani was famous in her village (in Comilla, Bangladesh) for her love of mangoes -- apparently, her dad had built a whole cellar for mangoes only for her.... And, for her fierce protection of her land (owned by her father)... She was so spoiled that she got married very late, at the age of 15-16!! In her time, girls as young as 7 were married off!!

She moved to West Pakistan in 1969 (after the landing of the moon!) with her husband (our Nana) and children to join her eldest son who was in the military and her daughter who lived there with her hsuband. Once her family made the move, she had no intention to go back. I do not remember her regretting the decision!

I will remember her for curries, especially curry with eggplants and tomatoes and pakkon pitha (a kind of Bengali sweet). I would not certainly remember her fearlessness and love of food and in general the zest for life!

She is survived by 2 sons and a daughter and 22 grandchildren and 14 great grand children living all over the word-- Islamabad, Karachi, Jeddah, Dhaka, Bonn, Melbourne, Toronto, London, and Honolulu. Her husband and two of her children died, in their adulthood, during her lifetime.

Nani was not the kind who would cuddle you, spoil you, tell you stories, give you advise, tell you the tips to manage your house well and protect you from fear/anxieties. She was known to invoke fear in others and she herself was the fearless in the whole family. She was sometimes defined a despot like Neopleon or Hitler. But the positive aspect of having such a strong personality was that she did not have the word "impossible" in her dictionary! She got angry, yes, but she was never depressed or despondent about a situation. She was the ever optimist... Things always looked sunnier, brighter and pink to her... Which was great, as I personally have a cynical personality and easily succumb to desperation and negativity.. So, having an elder like her was always a positive force.

She was a considerable beauty in her youth and she herself was never embarrassed about getting compliments about her fair complexion, which, according to the family legend was due to her ancestors who were Arabs!

She was 87.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Using Bible as a basis for law (not my writing)

By all means, let's use The Bible as the measuring stick for Gay Marriage. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination ... End of debate. I do need some advice from my fellow believers, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.
1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?
2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual un cleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women
take offense.
4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?
7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?
8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?
9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football (American) if I wear gloves?
10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his Wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev.20:14)
Thank you for any clarification you can provide-

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Background post for my blog on Urdu Dictionaries

This is a disclaimer and a short background note to go with my other blog about Urdu dictionaries.

According to Ethnologue, a language reference website, Urdu is spoken (as a first or second language) by around 162.6 million people all over the world including Pakistan and India. It is also the national language of Pakistan. The number of native speakers of the language is around 70 million or so--14 million in Pakistan and 60 million in India. Moreover, the number of people who can understand the language is much larger due to its similarity with Hindi, which in spoken form is many a times indistinguishable from Urdu. Hence, based on this, there are more than 500 million people around the world who can communicate in Urdu/Hindi.

Urdu uses Perso-Arabic system writing that uses ABJAD (ابجد) script, or in other words this uses a consonant based system with only long vowels as part of the alphabets. To denote short vowels, Urdu uses various diacritics. However, in written Urdu the standard practice is to omit the diacritic marks. For the native speakers (called Ahl e Zubaan in Urdu) of the language this poses no problem, as they know the correct pronunciation of the words and in cases of words with similar spellings they can identify the correct one. This however, can be confusing and frustrating to non-native speakers. For example let's take the words "BUN" "BAN" "BIN." All three are written as BN (بن) in Urdu, in most cases without any diacritical mark, assuming that the reader would know the relevant short vowels (according to the context) and hence read it correctly. Similarly, I recently heard the word KNARA (کنارہ) --which means edge or border and commonly known as KINARA-- pronounced as KANARA by a poet, and upon exploration, I found that the prevailing pronunciation is a "vulgarized" version. This makes it harder to speak the language like an "Ahl e Zubaan." Non usage of diacritics makes it difficult for machine translation and text to speech recognition programs.

Urdu is not my first language nor is English. I had to learn both languages because I grew up in Pakistan and attended government schools and colleges, where the medium of instruction is Urdu. Most people around me were also not used to Urdu as their first language, including teachers in my educational institutions due to which I never got the opportunity to learn the language properly from Ahl-e-Zaban. Hence, I still make silly mistakes in pronunciation and grammar, which is the reason for writing this Blog in English and not Urdu.

To improve my (spoken) Urdu, all my life I have relied on listening to the diction of native speakers and television, radio and internet for renditions and readings by Zia Mohiyuddin and others like him. Despite all these efforts, I know I have serious deficiencies in the language in terms of vocabulary, choosing the correct gender of words and pronunciation etc. Plus it is difficult for me to translate anything which is beyond basic conversation, from English to Urdu and vice versa.

Here is the link to the blog post on Urdu Dictionaries.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Students in a university

In my experiences of teaching in Pakistan, one major problem with students I have noticed is their lack of interest in class. If given a choice most would just spend the day in loitering in the university, in chat chat or simply doing nothing. For them, university is a place which will give them the paper, aka degree, which will help them get ahead in life, regardless of the actual skills and information they learnt. There is, however, a small proportion of this lot who are actually interested in the subject matter and you can see their faces light up when you explain something new to them.

I used to believe that it is due to the incompetence of the teacher that the students' mind wander rather than the readily available internet (with Facebook etc.) in their hands, the rules of university where students are not penalized for using gadgets in the class or arriving and leaving at whim. I used to think that a "good" teacher has the capacity to arouse curiosity and interest about any subject/topic in any student, no matter how dull or disinterested. There are loads of scholarly work on this subject which shows the "best" methods to teach.

But after around two years of intensive exposure to this, I have a new thought to explain this. In my view, university education is not meant for everybody. There are many who go to universities just because they want the degree which is needed for the modern society that is based on "credentials". Without the piece of paper known as degree, no respectable job is possible, these days. Even if one want to start their own business or just stay home and do nothing productive (as many female students in Pakistan plan) one needs the degree for "social" prestige. Hence, we have the universities full of students who need to coerced and/or coaxed to learn something. Reminds me of my first day in school when more than half of the children were mortified because of being in an alien environment, far from their homes and the molly coddling of their family. Only a few were actually excited at the prospect of learning something new. Using their minds and satiating their curiosities.

I want to argue that we need more community and technical degrees granting colleges which would just teach skills that would be directly relevant to the job market.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Early impressesion of Pakistan (or rather the society) once again (dobara)

I have lived in Australia and Hawaii and have had visitors from Pakistan during those stays. One of the first thing these visitors would say is that there is no care for guests here (no mehman nawazi). But, now that I am back in Pakistan, after a long time I want to say the same thing. I find people are busier than before. People do not want to meet you unless they have a particular purpose, like financial or social gain. I am sorry to say how many of friends, who are earning 10 times more than what they used to earn back in 2005 have also become 10 times more selfish.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The question of Pakistan's population on day of 7 billion

(Updated in Sept. 2016)

Today is the day of "celebrating" the day of 7 billion people in this word. Several articles, papers and blog posts have surfaced since the beginning of this year on this topic, for example here, here, here, here, here, here, or here, or here.

Pakistan, a country of more than 170 million, has a high population growth rate and could become the fourth largest country in 2050 with population surpassing 300 million. Our country hence has always been in the forefront of news for population issues. In the last few months a flurry of articles appeared in different English language newspapers of Pakistan related to (over) population, for reference see, here, here here, and here. Despite the numerous articles, I decided to blog about this topic because I could not find any recent article that would point out the multitudes of causes behind our population issues.

(For this blog I have mostly used journal articles and survey publications to avoid my personal bias. However, several articles used in this blog, unfortunately, are not available for free access.)

Whenever the question of population growth arises in our country, we tend to think of our family planning program which became part of government policy in the Fifties in first Five-Year Plan but launched as a formal program by the government in 1965. In the last five decades, the program has been successful in increasing level about awareness about contraceptive methods. During this period, the use of family planning methods rose from around 5.5 in 1968-69 to 35 percent in 2012-13 (Sathar and Casterline 1998; NIPS 2013). However despite these successes, our current population growth rate, as reported in Economic Survey 2015-16 is 1.89 (quoted to be 2.03 by Prime Minister Gilani on population day) and total fertility rate is over 4 (it went down to 3.1 in 2016) and population continues to rise with alarmingly.

While population growth might spur economic growth (esp. when in conjunction with demographic dividend), an unchecked growth with no matching economic infrastructure to subsume the population efficiently can create a burden also (to read more on this check this and this). According to Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Nadeem Ul Haque for current rate of population of our country to keep the same standard of living would require a corresponding national growth rate of over 7 percent (which is currently project to grow at a little over 3 percent). We would also need to add 2 million new jobs every year, to keep the incoming cohorts employed.

The million dollar question is why population programs in Pakistan haven't been successful? It would not be fair to label the Pakistan population program as failure. It has been successful in achieving an almost a universal level of contraceptive knowledge leading to increase in family planning usage which ultimately brought the fertility rates under some checks. However, it would be useful to critique why it has not been successful in meeting its targets consistently, from the very beginning. A common comparison of Pakistan's program is done with Bangladesh because at the time when it separated from Pakistan, "there were 5 million more people in Bangladesh than Pakistan... as result of their successful program, by 2050 Pakistan will have 62 million more people than Bangladesh" (Campbell et al. 2007).

The reasons for its lackluster performance is attributed to our government's lack of commitment (including switching family planning between ministries of health and population welfare (which has been devolved to the provinces after the 18th amendment in 2010)) to meet population goals and in general corruption in the system. Another reason is not being able to spread the reach of contraceptives despite deployment of more than 100,000 Lady Health Workers reaching 90 million population and multitude of smaller health centers geared towards rural areas. The third reason attributed to this (particularly to the stalled family planning usage rate) is the drastic reduction of international donor funding (which is the major funding source) for family planning programs, since the 2000. (Also see this).

The program and supply side success has brought Pakistan contraceptive use at 30 percent and a similar proportion of married women also show unmet need for family planning. Combining the current FP usage with unmet need for limiting childbearing (desire to have no more children) would bring up contraceptive use to more than 50 percent. Just to give the reader an idea of how Pakistan fares in the region, the family planning rates of other countries in the region like Bangladesh, India, Iran, Nepal and Sri Lanka are 54%, 48%, 73% , 38% and 68% respectively which are clearly at much higher level than Pakistan.It might be interesting to note that the top method choice in Pakistan is Pakistan Female Sterilization (8%), in Bangladesh it is pill (43%) and in India it is female sterilization (37%). For details on these statistics see various demographic and health studies).

One of the best way to gauge fertility demand is to ask about ideal family size (because some people may end up with than their ideal because of lack of access to family planning). According to the latest demographic survey the ideal family size in Pakistan is 4.1, which is the same as actual TFR. Moreover the demand for larger families continues to persist. "Only 13 percent of women prefer a two-child family and another 14 percent consider three children as their ideal family size." One should ask that why desired fertility has not gone down despite decades of promotion of two children as better family campaigns.

Another strong reason for low use family planning is sex preference of children (which for some reason is not talked about that much in our country), especially the desire to have sons or lack of satisfaction with sex composition of current children. According to one study, in order to have one male child people are willing to have as many female children as needed (source missing). The lack of a son or a daughter among one’s living children increases the likelihood that a woman will have another child in all four regions. For example, women who have more than 5 children but no sons, 24% of them still want to have more children, while "among women with three children, 65 percent of those with three sons want to have no more children compared with only 14 percent of those with three daughters." Despite these preferences, I should point out here that abortion (or feticide) based on sex preference is rare in Pakistan.

Other strong indirect factors in contraceptive non use are lack of autonomy of women, lack of education and formal work opportunity, poverty and a general sense of fatalism and/or religiosity.

Direct reasons of lack of contraceptive use and/or discontinuation of use include actual or perceived side effects of modern contraception (hormonal) and method failure, failure of method (resulting in pregnancy), barrier in access including cost, distance, social stigma, lack of knowledge of a method and its source, religious and social barriers in use of family planning. (For more info see this and this.)

Family planning programs have come under fire because some contend that "fertility rates in some countries will drop only when couples decide they want fewer children. And the strongest predictors of a woman’s desired family size are her income, her education level, and her infant’s chances of surviving." The supporters of economic growth and its link to fertility reduction purport that "when the motive is strong, couples will find ways to achieve small families, and state-sponsored family-planning programmes are not a necessary." However, Cleland (2006) contends that though that might be true but "family-planning programmes can accelerate the pace of change." Sharing similar views Bongaarts and Sinding (2009) also note that "voluntary family planning programs are intended to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies, but they also legitimize and diffuse the idea of smaller families, thus accelerating the transition to lower fertility."

It is surprising that despite more than four decades of family planning program the ideal family size has remained as high as more than four children which shows that lack of family planning use is not only due to supply side factors but married men and women go through a matrix of choices before opting to limit their families.

Family planning: The unfinished agenda.
Fertility in Pakistan: Past, Present and Future.
Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2006-07.
Does Family Planning Bring Down Fertility
Future of Pakistan family planning
National Program for Family Planning and Primary Health Care.
Nationmaster database.

Bongaarts, J., & Sinding, S. W. (2009). A response to critics of family planning programs. International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 35(1), 39-44.
Campbell M, J Cleland, A Ezeh, and N Prata. 2007. "Public health. Return of the population growth factor". Science (New York, N.Y.). 315 (5818): 1501-2.
Cleland, J., S. Bernstein, A. Ezeh, A. Faundes, A. Glasier, and J. Innis. 2006. "Family planning: the unfinished agenda". The Lancet. 368 (9549): 1810-1827.