Archive for April, 2008




Nothing surprises you more than finding a rich repository of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Christian ancient artifacts in the heart of Lahore, Pakistan. Broken or cracked is no issue.

If any individual has dared to salvage ancient “art” of minority communities in Pakistan and given them some semblance of esteem – it is the “Cocoo’s den”—Art Studio cum Restaurant–Cafe –in Lahore.

For owner- painter Iqbal Hussain and restoring the 4-storeyed Haveli known as ‘Holy Castle ‘ a evacuee property in the Heera Mandi –the red-light area of the city– was a daunting task!

“I faced heavy odds from mullahs and extremist elements who questioned this amalgam of art of differing religious sensibilities. Sometimes the higher or lower levels of placement of artwork in comparison to the Muslim ‘Kalma’ evoked outrage. At others it was my collection of paintings of modern day ‘tawaifs’ in various modes of undress amidst these artworks have borne the ire of fundamentalists. But now with the round-the-clock security, things have been more settled,” he added .

Queried over his paintings of flesh traders he answers without a hint of embarrassment ” My mother — ‘Nawab Begum’ was a ‘tawaif and a’ ‘nautch’ dancer in the court of maharaja of Patiala hailing from Dharampura from where we came to Lahore during partition”.

About the extravagant collection that he has painstakingly chosen to decorate in nooks and corners, even on balustrade ledges! he says “I collected and bought works of art from local junk dealers — temple jharokas/domes , statues of Hanuman lifting the Sanjivni , Buddhist busts , striking bells, flower platters , ancient diyas , life size statue of Mother Mary, Guardian and cupid angels and virtually turned this into a art studio. However financial -crunch pushed me into remodeling the studio– into a restaurant and cafe where I displayed ‘my’ art now.”

His art has been aptly described by Aryn Baker in ‘Time’ Magazine as “Hussain’s searing portraits of teenage prostitutes, thickset madams to wizened harmonium players amidst ancient art —- a mix of the “debased and the divine” .

Senior Superintendent of Police Special Branch, Lahore Ms Neelma Durrani admits that the ‘strange mix’ has brought its share of hardships to the place and owner. Owners of other shops around the restaurant also give credence to the fact that the place faced hullabaloo from those claiming to be the protectors of Islam on several occasions.

However Cooco’s den is replete with a unique combination of ancient culture, gastronomical delights and a near perfect view. It is no surprise then that it has become the most favored spot for a Lahore visitor including many Indians and foreigners.

The indoors are intriguing in contrast to the dazzling outdoors, giving a feel of different time zone.

Tastefully, laid tables, glassware, antique chairs in almost all settings including indoors, patio, terrace, and rooftop.

A bell hung over a beatific statue of Virgin Mary on the main patio is used to ring in the delicious food orders from lower floors as a ‘handi’ strung on ropes is lowered and swiftly pulled from the rooftop to serve sizzling cuisine food on any floor .

‘Rope- pulling’– is an ancient method used to lift purchases like groceries, vegetables others to upper floors of the house practiced even now in many congested parts of Punjab in both India and Pakistan but especially in Amritsar and Lahore.
“I have kept alive this ancient mode of transportation,” the owner lets out with a guffaw.

Warm marble tables heated with electric heaters underneath, under the glow of the lanterns with flavors of mint, strawberry and vanilla ‘hookah’ –called ‘sheesha’–absolutely transforms as one breathes in the unique roof-top view of the breathtaking sight of 350-year old ancient minarets of Badshahi mosque—bathed in floodlight, underneath a chilly, clear, twinkling, dark sky.

The view adds to the exotic ambience of bells, marbled statues, frescoes of deities, flower platters, wood- framed mirrors, and sparkling glow of ‘diyas’ that casts a virtual spell.

“I respect all faiths. After the Babri Masjid went down in 1993 lots of shrines in Pakistan came under violence. I offered to take in any statue of any Hindu, Buddhist, Jain God or Goddess if it came on the market. So they came to me. I don’t want any disrespect shown to them,” says Hussain.

Interestingly, according to Hussain his 90-years old mother tells him that his father was a Hindu – a Pandit named ‘Karamchand’ –a singer of big, local fame. He even claims to have a picture of him



Jet lag Versus “Mal Gaddi –lag”

By Rashmi Talwar

I remember arriving back from America and facing the proverbial jet lag that could sap the strength out of anyone, but nothing could beat the “travel fatigue” after the”longest Train journey for the Shortest distance” in the world — from Amritsar to Lahore or vice versa .

Mind you, the distance between Amritsar –Lahore –the twin cities (before partition) is just 60 kilometers from each other and merely “3 Kms” apart from each others border and not thousands of Kms.

However when I arrived back from Lahore just before the deadly twin blasts in capital of West Punjab, my family heaved a sigh of relief. Seeing my groggy appearance for the second day after arrival they broke into peels of laughter and commented “lookan nu JET LAG honda hai tuhanu “mal gaddi –lag” (goods train) hoya hai ”

The Samjhauta Express train between the two countries may be the “train of emotions” for those who were separated during partition but surely the “Samjhauta-Compromise” is all for real on every front, even if it means the dubious distinction of being a train for smuggling. But for many of us the ground reality saw emotions of a different kind—of endless wait, rushing, grabbing, queuing, minor scuffles along with hunger pangs and hot tempers.

Due to the sizeable number of our group our journey from Lahore to Amritsar started at 6 am to reach Lahore station. Formalities of passports, tickets et al done, the train finally started at 8 am.

As the first “International” train between India and Pakistan chugged along the railway track towards Wagah (village in Pakistan on border ) the nearly 25 Kms of journey to border took more than one and half hour in a third class compartment .

On reaching Wagah, entire baggage of passengers was downloaded for immigration and customs.

“Helter-skelter ran people looking for baggage trolleys standing in long queues. After another set of formalities, people struggled to get back to their seats but nothing remained in the name of seats!” All were occupied or laden with baggage. The passage-ways full of sacks and assorted luggage.

Weary and hungry, a bottle of coke with pack of biscuits was all that I could manage to grab from the lone vendor at Wagah station. No sooner did some eye the goodies and what remained was the ‘transparent’ bottle and a biscuit cover. After that no one dared to open the “meager morsels” that they stored for onward journey.
Perched precariously on baggage it was a ‘rock-n-roll’ experience. Painstakingly, the train departed at about 2 pm to be again halted near border gates. Emotions ran high in fascination to see BSF personnel gracefully riding a horse alongside the train.
For those with cameras the snail’s pace proved a boon as pristine rural landscapes on either side were caught for posterity in ‘unblurred’ picture frames. Many prayed post crossing the Radcliffe railway line while many were amused as police personnel on duty offered them handsome exchange currency!
The situation was no better with cumbersome customs and immigration at Attari “International” Railway station on the Indian side. Again the race for trolleys–with only 200 of them for nearly 500 alighting passengers– Minor scuffles and hot words ensued– At about 5 .30 pm I managed to reach my waiting family outside the station. Ordeal of nearly 12-hours over, some aptly commented “what can you expect with a rail ticket on Indian side costing measly Rs 18 but surely the Pakistani side could do better with a Lahore to Attari ticket at Rs 100 (Pakistani)”, some smiled. My last remembrance would be the ‘mal’ arrived in the ‘gaddi’ and the ‘lag’ followed ……………..eom

Amritsar:emergency contraceptive pills?..think again

Headlines Today

Gynecologists sound caution to women resorting to “emergency contraceptive pills” to prevent unwanted pregnancy

By Rashmi Talwar

Amritsar April 7, 2008 —————-

Men and women who practice unsafe sex and then resort to the “emergency contraceptive pills” to prevent unwanted pregnancies need to be aware of certain counter effects of using the “pill’ .

Vigorously marketed by some pharmaceutical companies that claim its cent percent success, the “pill” is far from safe as noted by some gynecologists in Amritsar.
Several cases have been reported in the city where woman were found to have developed “Ectopic” pregnancy post usage of these pills . The ‘Ectopic’ pregnancy is when the pregnancy takes place other than the uterus. Most commonly these pregnancies can take place in the fallopian tubes besides other areas could be ovaries, cervix or even abdomen and can be fatal for mother.
A gynecologist of the city requesting anonymity revealed that at least three patients had come to her for treatment in the past 3-4 months with severe abdominal pain. When tested it was found that they had ‘Ectopic’ pregnancies and surprisingly all three had been consuming the ’emergency contraceptive pill’.
“Their pregnancy occurred in the fallopian tube and caused severe pain in the abdomen with bleeding . The condition is life threatening as contrary to pregnancy in uterus as the most natural environment for the foetus, the egg fertilizes and is implanted in the fallopian tube of the patient”, the gynecologist added
Another gynecologist explained that as per medical reports the movement of the ovum or the egg is controlled by natural hormones. The pill is targeted to change the natural balance and course of hormones that serves to control the ‘unwanted’ pregnancy. However the pill is also known to be causing imbalance in hormones leading to unnatural changes that have resulted in ‘Ectopic’ pregnancies. Undetected or ignored cases of Ectopic pregnancies may lead to rupture of the tube internally causing death, the doctor contended.

The gynecologist who dealt with three such cases in a private hospital of the city said “when some patients came to me with severe abdominal pain their ultrasound proved the presence of the foetus in the fallopian tube. Subsequently a number of such cases have been recorded in the city wherein patient had felt safe in the knowledge of having taken the emergency contraceptive pill to prevent pregnancy but have landed in a serious situation”.
She advised that companies advertising such pills should be asked to fully inform the patient about the effects of the pill and possible outcomes through wrapper information or in the advertisements to help them make a sound decision on its usage.
“But vested interests play a pivotal role in keeping this information under wraps thereby putting under threat the lives of women users ” she added . Amongst the most common symptoms recorded by some doctors for the presence of Ectopic pregnancies could be a missed period, symptoms during actual pregnancy , abnormal bleeding, pain in the lower abdomen or the pelvis. …………..eom

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Indian Reshma” found in Jagdev Kalan border village

Melody reigns supreme at Jagdev Kalan village

Rashmi Talwar

On the wings of soft wind, rustling through an ancient banyan tree, a clear melodious song wafts through. It breaks through the shouts of “Reshma, Reshma”.

Sarabjit — a shy, kohl-eyed eighteen-year-old girl emerges nervously, wiping her face with a handkerchief. She is Reshma for her classmates. “Our friend is no less talented than the noted Pakistani singer Reshma,” says one of Sarabjit’s classmates at Senior Secondary School at Jagdev Kalan village, the birthplace of renowned Muslim poet Hasham Shah. Interestingly, the marble plaque at the school informs — “From this village, 105 men went to the Great War of 1914-1919 (World War-I). Of these, three gave up their lives.”

Sufiana kalam, Heer, Shah Hussian, Waris Shah , Bulleh Shah, Shreen-Farad -Sarabjit renders all effortlessly and with élan. The afternoon slides into evening that is filled with the melody of Punjabi folk songs, bolis and qawwalis.

Sarabjit’s brother Kuldeep (12) and many of her classmates and junior students, too, are singers and performers. The best comes in when the brother-sister duo sings Sassi Punnu, Nazuk pyer maluk sassi de, mehendi nal savarey — the creation of poet Hasham Shah.

Sarabjit and Kuldeep’s parents, Dharm Singh and Balwinder Kaur, both are singers. Guru Nanak Dev University recently recorded a CD of Sarabjit’s songs. She was also invited to radio station two years back after an audition survey, and instead of the “Bal Vani” programme for children, she was chosen for “Yuva Vani” in which young adult singers participate.

Interestingly, the village boasts of many singers and performers. One Manjit Singh anchors programmes, mimics, sings and plays harmonium and dhol. Sardool Sikander is another upcoming singer.

The singers from this village like to call themselves descendants of Bhai Mardana — a Muslim who accompanied Guru Nanak Dev throughout his journeys. But this may be far from the truth.

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