Mango and Urdu Poets: A sweet relationship

Mango enjoys an exalted status among fruits. It is for nothing that it is called the king of fruits. Being a popular fruit, mango has not escaped the attention of Urdu writers and poets. Urdu literature and poetry are full of couplets and stories about mango.

One of the finest exponents of Urdu Poetry, Mirza Ghalib, was a true connoisseur of mango. Ghalib’s love for mango was legendary. There are several stories about Ghalib related to mangoes. It is said that once Ghalib was eating (rather gorging) mangoes. Along with him was sitting a Doctor friend Hakim Raziuddin Khan. Hakim Sahib saw a donkey sifting through garbage. The donkey did not touch a heap of mangoes which was in the garbage. Hakim Sahib immediately pointed that “Look Mirza, even the donkey does not like mangoes”. Not the one to go let an opportunity, Ghalib replied in his imitable style “True, Hakim Sahib, only a donkey would not like a mongo”.

Once in a letter written to the Mutawalli (caretaker) of Calcutta’s (now Kolkata) Imambara, Ghalib wrote “Not only am I a slave to my stomach, I am a weak person as well. I desire that my table be adorned and that my soul be comforted. The wise ones know that both of these can be satisfied by mangoes”.  This was further stressed by the request to the caretaker to remember Ghalib twice or thrice before the end of mango season, though he worried that this may not be enough to comfort “your humble servant”.

Even at old age he had healthy appetite for mango. At the age of 60 he writes in a letter that he can no longer “eat more than ten or twelve at a sitting” and “if they are large ones, then a mere six or seven”. He also lamented that “Alas, the days of youth have gone, indeed, the days of life itself have come to an end”.

There is another beautiful story of Ghalib with Bahadur Shah Zafar (the last Mughal Emperor of India). Once Ghalib was accompanying Bahadur Shah Zafar in Baagh e Hayaat Bakhsh (Garden of Life. To be more precise Garden which increases life). The fruits of the garden were reserved for the nobility. Bahadur Shah Zafar saw Ghalib looking at mangoes with quite intensity and asked what he was looking at. Ghalib replied in Persian that he has heard the elders say that:

Bar sar-e har daana ba navishta Ayaan

Ka-een fulaan ibn e fulaan ibn e fulaan

(On every piece one can see written quite clearly
That this is for so-and-so, son of so-and-so, son of so-and-so)

He told the Emperor that he is trying to spot if any of his ancestor’s name is written on any mango. The Emperor got the message and the same day Ghalib got his share of mangoes from the Royal Orchard.

There is another story of Ghalib and mangoes. There was a gathering where virtues of mangoes were being discussed. One of the attendees, Maulana Fazl-e Haq asked Ghalib about his opinion about mangoes. Ghalib said that mangoes should have two qualities:

Aamo main buss do khubiyan honi chahiyen, ek methey hon aur bohot sarey hon” (For mango to be good, it should have two qualities. One is that they should be sweet and secondly, they should be plentiful).

It is not without reason that Ghalib even composed a masnavi (poem in rhythmic couplets) on mangoes. The masnavi is entitled “dar sifat e ambaah”

Mujhse poochho, tumhen khabar kya hai

Aam kea agey neyshakar kya hai

Ya ye hoga ke fart-e rafa’at se

Baagh baanon ne baagh e Jannat se

Angabeen ke, ba hukm-e rabb-in-naas

Bhar ke bheje hain sar ba mohar gilaas

(ask me! for what do you know?
a mango is far sweeter than sugarcane…
perhaps from the great heights above
the gardeners of heaven’s orchards
have sent, by the order of God
wine filled in sealed glasses)

Similarly, there are stories of Akbar Allahabadi related to mangoes. Once Akbar Allahabadi sent a box of choicest Langra (Langra means Lame in Urdu. It is also a variety of mango from Uttar Pradesh, India) to Allama Iqbal in Lahore. As a receipt, Iqbal sent Akbar Allahabadi a couplet:

Asar hai teri aijaz e masihaee ka ae Akbar

Allahabad se Langra chala Lahore tak pahuncha.

(Akbar, this is the miracle of your Jesus like healing powers. The lame traveled from Allahabad and has reached Lahore)

Akbar Allahabadi has written a whole poem called Aam Nama on mangoes wherein he is requesting a friend to send mangoes to him in Allahabad. The poem clearly shows how much Akbar Allahabadi enjoyed mangoes. He writes:

Nama na koi yaar ka paigham bhejiye

Is fasl main jon bhejiye bas aam bhejiye

Aisa zaroor ho ke unhen rakh ke kha sakun

Pukhta agar bees to das khaam bhejiye

Maloom hi hai aap ko bandey ka address

Sedhey Allahabad merey naam bhejiye

Aisa no ho kea ap ye likhen jawab main

Tameel hogi pahley magar daam bhejiye

(O beloved do not send any messages

This season if you want to send just send mangoes

I should be able to keep them and eat

If twenty are ripe ten should be raw

You know the address of yours truly

Send them directly to my address at Allahabad

It should not so happen that you reply

That you will follow my order but first I should send the money)

 

Other poets or Urdu have also paid their tribute to mango and have shown their love for the king of fruits. Contemporary Urdu poet Munawwar Rana describes how he does not eat sweets during the season of mango through this couplet:

Insaan ke hathon ki banayi nahin khatey

Hum aam ke Mausam main mithai nahin khatey

(I do not eat what is made by mere mortals

In the season of mango, I do not eat sweets)

 

At another place, Munawwar Rana compares his love for mangoes to that of Ghalib:

 

Allah jaanta hai mohabbat hamin ne ki

Ghalib ke baad aamon ki izzat hamin ne ki

(Allah knows that only I fulfilled the conditions of love

After Ghalib, its me who gave honour to mango)

Another pre Independence poet Akhtar Shirani has written a whole poem on mango. He has described life of an exile away from home who is missing mango in its season. He writes:

O des se aaney waley bata

Kya aam ke unchey pedon par

Ab bhi wo papihey boltey hain

Sakhon ke hariri pardon main

Naghmon ke khazaney gholtey hain

Sawan ke rasiley giton se

Talab main amras gholtey hain

O des se aaney waley bata

(O the one who has come from home tell

On the tall trees of mango

Does the cuckoo still croons

Does the magic of song melts?

In the silken curtains of the branches

Do the songs of rainy season still

Melt like the sweetness of mango in the pond

O the one who has come from home tell)

 

Urdu literature and poetry are full of poems, letters, stories and phrases on mango. This only reflects the importance of mango in the popular Indian Culture. According to Saghar Khayyami:

Aam teri ye khush nasibi hai

Warna lagnron pe kaun marta hai

(Mango it is your good luck

Otherwise who loves a lame)

Note: It is very difficult to represent the subtleties of Urdu poetry in English translation. I have tried to be as literal as possible. I hope that I have somewhat managed the task. Readers are requested to suggest improvements. I shall be grateful.

Urdu goes Hi-Tech: Mirza Ghalib meets Jeff Bezos

On June 5, 2020, Rekhta Foundation launched its Amazon Alexa Skill enabling Urdu lovers to enjoy Urdu poetry on Alexa. It allows lovers of Urdu poetry to enjoy hundreds of Urdu couplets by master poets by simple voice command. Connoisseurs will be able to enjoy this service on both Amazon Echo Range as well as Alexa enabled devices. At initial stage, it allows one to listen to almost 1000 poetry tracks from about 50 poets. To make it easy for users, the Urdu couplets have been arranged according to poets and genre like poetry on sadness, love etc.

It can be used by giving commands in both English and Urdu by simply saying “Alexa open Rekhta” or “Alexa, Rekhta Shuru karo”. It can also be used according to poet, genre or mood. example, simply telling it “Alexa, tell me a love shayari” will enable Alexa to play love shayari. At the launch of the service, the Country Manger Alexa Skills and Voice Services, India, Mr. Dilip R.S. said that “With over 1000 Shayaris to choose from, we are exited about Rekhta’s new Alexa Skill and believe it is a great way for poetry lovers to enjoy their favourite Shayaris in a hassle-free manner through simple voice commands at the comforts of their homes”.

According to Mr. Sanjeev Saraf, founder Rekhta Foundation, “With changing times, the ever-increasing charm of poetry has reached personal devices and Echo devices and Alexa-enabled smart devices perfectly fit the environment of personal leisure time. We are pleased to bring this home for the lovers of the language”.

This is a novel experiment and the need of the times. This will allow larger audience to benefit from vast collection of Urdu poetry. This may very well become a wonderful opportunity to promote the language with the help of technology. I am exited and looking forward to using this. Indeed, exciting times for Urdu and Urdu lovers.

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Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy cries out for help

Darul Musannefin popularly known as Shibli Academy or Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy is a research institution based in the Indian city of Azamgarh. The idea of a residential academy where scholars can stay and undertake quality research was conceived by Allama Shibli Nomani (3 June 1857 – 18 November 1914). Shibli Nomani bequeathed his property at Azamgarh city for the purpose. Besides his relative also donated their share of the property. Today the Academy is situated in 23172.67 square meters campus. The campus has a library, meeting hall, mosque, mango orchard, press and staff quarters.

The purpose of Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy is to:

  • Nurture and sustain a body of scholarly authors.
  • To provide a congenial environment for scholars to create, compile and translate literary works of high scholastic and historical value.
  • To undertake printing and publication of the literary works of the Academy.

The Darul Musannefin since its establishment has nurtured a body of scholars of repute. It provides a congenial academic environment for scholars to create, compile and translate high quality literary work. So far it has published more than 250 high quality books. Some of the best-known books of Darul Musannefin are ‘Seerat -un- Nabi’, ‘Al Farooq’ and ‘Seerat- e- Aisha’.

The Darul Musannefin also publishes a widely reputed Urdu monthly ‘Maarif’. The first issue of Maarif was published in July 1916. The journal has already completed 100 years of uninterrupted publication. At present, it is the longest surviving Urdu journal in the world.

The Press Information Bureau of  Government of India, on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee celebration of the Academy, described it as “Moulded in the scholarly tradition of India’s ancient centres of learning, the Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy, in the old Azamgarh town of Uttar Pradesh, has taken its place alongside some known modern research institutions. The small band of devoted scholars in the Academy, who preferred the pursuit of knowledge to the lure of status, comforts or emoluments which could have been theirs for the asking, recalls the glory of the ancient scholars of Nalanda, Cairo, Taxila and Transoxiana.”

Among its admirers Shibli Academy can count stalwarts as Allama Sir Mohammad Iqbal, Maulana Abul Kalaam Azad, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Pandit Motilal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Zakir Hussain. The present president of the Academy is Hamid Ansari (Former Vice President of India).

To show support to the Academy prominent personalities became life members. Some of the important life members of the Academy were Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, Maulana Abdul Kalaam Azad, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, Nawab Hamidullah Khan.

In the past prominent political and intellectual personalities made it a point to visit Academy. Some of the prominent personalities who have paid visit to the Academy are Mahatma Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, Maulana Hasrat Mohani, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Ram Manohar Lohia, Suchitra Kriplani, Chaudhary Charan Sigh, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Bi Amman, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, Sarojini Naidu, Dr. Zakir Hussain, V.V. Giri, V.P. Sigh, Professor Sir Ziauddin, Professor Abdul Salaam (Nobel Laurate), Rahul Gandhi and Hamid Ansari to name a few.

Before Independence, Shibli Academy got valuable monetary support from the Princely states of Bhopal and Hyderabad. Particularly, the Begum of Bhopal was an important patron of the Academy. However, these sources dried up after Independence of India. Despite offers from the Government of India, the Academy opted not become a government organisation so as not to lose its independence of thought. Presently, due to a variety of reasons, the Academy is in dire financial situation. Had it been about construction of a Mosque or supporting a Madrasa, it would have been much easier to generate funds. However, people usually do not understand the importance of a research institution or a think tank. Hence, the lukewarm response of the community towards the Academy. The people at the helm of affairs are trying to tide out of the present precarious situation. Since the Academy survives purely on the donations received from the general public and does not have any permanent income stream, the present administration is trying to build a corpus fund. The idea is to make the Academy financially sustainable so as to reduce the need to go to the community again and again for support. However, due to certain factors, particularly the lockdown, the Academy’s finances are really stressed out. So much so that the April salaries were delayed by 15 days, perhaps first time in almost 106 years of its proud existence. The Director of the Academy, Professor Ishtiyaq Ahmad Zilli, has appealed to the community for help. The Academy is in precarious situation. I am appealing you to kindly help in whatever way you can.

There are several ways to financially help the Academy. Some of them are:

  • Become life member of the Academy
  • Buy books published by the Academy
  • Direct monetary contribution. Monetary contribution can be either one-time lump sum amount (no amount is small. Even 100 Indian Rupees would be helpful). The other more sustainable method is to give standing instruction to your bank to transfer a particular amount every month to the Academy (Again no amount is small. Most of the banks accept standing orders of minimum 100 Indian Rupees per month). It would not be out of place to mention that the Indian contributions to the Academy get tax benefit under 80C. The Academy also has permission to receive funds from outside India.

For those who would like to contribute directly to the Academy, the Account details are as follows:

Account Name: DARUL MUSANNEFIN SHIBLI ACADEMY

General Account No: 4761005500000051

IFSC Code: PUNB0476100

Foreign Account No: 0504010100046001

IFSC Code: PUNB0476100

Bank Name and Address: Punjab National Bank, Heerapatti, Azamgarh.

For further details the website of the Academy can be visited at:

website: www.shibliacademy.org

The administrators of the Academy may be contacted at:

E-mail: shibli_academy@rediffmail.com

info@shibliacademy.org

Note: Please forward the post to your friends. You never know who may help.

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Pandit Anand Mohan Zutshi ‘Gulzaar Dehlvi’

The news of death of veteran Urdu Poet Pandit Anand Mohan Zutshi ‘Gulzar Dehlvi’ was received with sadness by the lovers of Urdu language. Gulzar Dehlvi passed away on 12 June 2020 at his Noida home. He was 93 years and 11 months old at the time of his death. In fact, he contacted coronavirus and was admitted to a hospital. Five days ago he was declared as free of the virus. But his frail body could not fully recover from the trauma. According to doctors, he most probably died of cardiac arrest.

Gulzar Dehlvi was born on 7 July 1926 in Gali Kahmireeyan in Delhi. He was a freedom fighter and also a journalist. A Kashmiri Pandit, he was nephew of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the First Prime of India. He was a good friend of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the First Education Minister of India. He served as the first editor of the first Urdu Science Magazine ‘Science ki Dunya’ which was launched in 1975. Science ki Dunya was the only Science Magazine in Urdu to be published by the Government of India. On his 91st birthday he was honoured by the then Vice President of India, Janab Hamid Ansari, for his contribution to Urdu language.

He came from a family of Urdu lovers. His father, Pandit Tribhuvan Nath ‘Zaar’ Dehlvi was a teacher of Urdu and Persian languages at the Delhi University for around 40 years. For his dedication to the twin languages, Pandit Tribhuvan received the public title of ‘molvi sahib’. According to Gulzar Dehlvi, his father Zaar Dehlvi was a disciple of famous Mughal Poet Daagh Dehlvi.

It is said that he had no equal when it came to knowing the Delhi of Mir and Ghalib. He was not only a par excellence Urdu poet but also embodied the Urdu culture. Always attired in Sherwani with Nehru cap he was always present in every important Mushaira in Delhi. His love for Urdu was returned by public by their love for him which was evident from the rapturous applause which was always reserved for him whenever his name was called in any Mushaira in Delhi. It is sheer coincidence that just a few days ago i was listening to his parody of Allama Iqbal’s famous Sarey Jahan se Acha Hindustan Hamara. His loss has created a void which would be impossible to fill. In his own words:

Mere baad aaney walon, meri baat yaad rakhna

Mere naqshey pa se behtar koi raasta nahin hai 

Gulzar  aabroo-e-zuban ab hami se hai
Dilli me apne baad yeh lutf-e-sukhan  kahan.

 

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Langkawi – A journey to the rain-forest paradise

On my Malaysia trip, Langkawi was last destination in the itinerary. From Kuala Lumpur we took Air Asia flight to Langkawi. The check in and the rest of the procedure was very smooth. Air Asia is a budget airline and hence the limit on check in luggage. We realized at the counter that we had a few kilograms more luggage then permitted. There was a lengthy line behind me and I decided to pay so as not to inconvenience others. However, the lady at the counter was very considerate and told us to step aside and rearrange our luggage. She even assigned another lady to assist us in doing so. That was such a nice gesture. The flight was one hour and five minutes. We were the only tourists in that flight. The rest were locals. Since it was a budget airline, we had to pay for water and food. I ordered some sandwiches along with the famous Malaysian tea: Teh Tarik. Teh Tarik means pulled tea. The origins of Teh Tarik are traced to Indian Muslim immigrants who traditionally set up tea stalls outside rubber plantations after World War II to serve workers there. It is prepared by pouring the tea back and forth from one vessel to another from height (the reason why it is called pulled tea) thus creating froth. Today it is the national drink of Malaysia and has been declared as national heritage of Malaysia. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea as it is on the sweater side. It was the best Teh Tarik in my entire stay in Malaysia. The first thing I did on return flight to Kuala Lumpur was to order Teh Tarik. In Muscat, it is available at Bread Talk where I go once in a while to enjoy my cup of Teh Tarik.

Before we could finish our sandwiches and tea, there was announcement of landing. Langkawi from above looked magical. Full of greenery and beaches everywhere. The Langkawi airport is very small airport and has a very provincial look. We finished with the procedures and baggage within 20 minutes. It was such a relief after navigating through the big and bustling airport at Kuala Lumpur. For Langkawi, I had not engaged any tourist agency for my trip. We engaged a taxi from outside the airport. It took us about 20 minutes to reach the hotel. The road to the hotel from the airport was lush green on both sides. Since it was rainy season everything was fresh. At times it felt like we are inside a jungle. The air was very cool and fresh. Good beginning to a new place.

View of the bay from the Hotel Room, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

Eagle Square

Once at hotel we all decided to take shower, lunch and some sleep in that order. After one hour of sleep we were ready to hit the town. Our first stop was Dataran Lang or Eagle Square. Eagle square was at five minutes walking distance form the hotel. The statue of Brown Eagle has become Mascot of Langkawi Island. This place reflects the origin of Langkawi’s name. Malay words ‘helang‘ means Eagle while ‘kawi‘ means reddish brown. Combining the two words becomes Langkawi. The Eagle statue is a massive 12 meters concrete structure depicting a Reddish Brown Eagle ready to take off. Today it is perhaps the most visited and most photographed place in Langkawi. However, the real highlight of the Eagle Square is the awesome view of bay with mountains in the background. One can see ferries moving in and out of the jetty.

Dataran Lang, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
View of the Jetty from the Eagle Square, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

Legenda Park

Just outside the Eagle square is Taman Legenda or Legenda Park. It means the park of the legends. Legenda Park is a 20 acre park based on the theme of legends popular in Langkawi folklore and myths from the past to the modern times. It is basically a park made on reclaimed land and there is a man made beach also attached to it. It was started as a park with entrance fees but with the passage of time, the entrance has become free but the monuments and sculptures inside the park show signs of decay and lack of maintenance. It is a beautiful park located at a perfect location near the Kuah Jetty and Eagle Square. I did not see many locals but saw a lot of tourists sitting in park overlooking the sea and reading book. I cannot think of any better place in Langkawi where one can go with a cup of coffee and a book and spend two three wonderful hours reading while enjoying the cool breeze coming from the sea. The park is full of local fruit trees which provide shade to the walking trails.

Each sculpture in the park represents a story from the folklore or myths popular in Langkawi such as two giants who were good friends and later turned into two mountains of Mat Cincang and Gurung Raya after they fought with each other and were turned into mountains by lightening from the sky. However, the most popular story on the island is of Mahsuri who was falsely charged with adultery and executed in 1800’s. Today it is favourite of joggers and while there are no facilities inside the park, the shopping centers just outside the park make it easy for the visitors. While we were inside the park, it started to rain and the weather became really pleasant. We took shelter in the Pavilion of the Chinese Princes. It represents the story of a Chinese Princes who was about to marry the son of Roman Emperor. But there was a fear among smaller kingdoms that they would stand no chance against two big empires coming together through marital alliance. To stop the marriage a Phoenix took the princes hostage while she was sailing to Italy for her marriage and brought her to Langkawi and killed the Prince when he came to rescue the Princes. However, when he brought the body of the Prince to the Pavilion where the Princess was kept hostage he realised that even after death the Prince is near the Princess. He realised that the union was intended by the gods and left the earth in disgrace at his mistake.

Colonial Era Bridge connecting the Eagle Square to the Legenda Park. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Pathway inside Legenda Park. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Monitor Lizard in Legenda Park. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Its raining in Langkawi. Inside Legenda Park. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
View of the bay from the Legenda Park, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Pavilion of the Chinese Princes. A place to take refuge during rain at Legenda Park, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

Temurun Waterfall

Next day was Friday and it was decided that we go to the Temurun Waterfall early and come back to the hotel before Juma Prayer Time. Temurun waterfall is in Datai Bay area of Langkawi. Since it was Friday we found difficulty in finding taxi to go to the waterfall. Finally, one elderly taxi driver agreed to take us there. It was around 30 minutes car drive from our hotel in Kuah. Temurun waterfalls are three tier falls totaling a drop of 200 meters making it the highest waterfall in Langkawi. There is a car park along the main road. From the car park it’s a 5-minute walk stepped walk in the rain forests of Mount Mat Cincang to reach the lowest fall. The place is full of butterflies and there are some wild monkeys also. We were lucky as when it started raining heavily on the way to the waterfall. Due to rains, the waterfall was in full flow with water spraying all over. There were families bathing in the waterfall. The area is surrounded by tall rain forest trees making the whole place very beautiful. The uppermost part of the waterfall is the most beautiful. The cascading waters were a sight to behold. There is a pool at its bottom where the water falls and above and accumulates before going down. That is a good place to immerse oneself in water. The water was very cool and due to the water falling from quite height, there was mist everywhere creating a wonderful experience. We spent around two and a half hours at the waterfalls and thoroughly enjoyed our stay there.

Temurun Waterfall, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
The pool formed at the bottom on topmost level at Temurun Waterfall. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Stairs leading all the way up to the top pool at Temurun Waterfall. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

Across the road to the car park is the famous pebbles beach which I could not go as only one hour was left for Friday Prayers. By the time we reached hotel it was time for Friday prayers. Leaving family at hotel, I immediately left for the Mosque. As I came out of the hotel and was trying to find my way to the mosque, a taxi driver offered me to drop to the mosque as he was also going there to pray Juma. No need to mention that he did not take any money. Masjid Hana is the biggest mosque on the island. The khutbah (sermon) was PowerPoint khutbah. This was my first experience of PowerPoint khutbah. The Imam came to the mimbar (pulpit) with a laptop. There were many big television screens in every section of the mosque. The khutbah given by the imam was actually a PowerPoint presentation. It was easy for people to see and hear in every part of the mosque. It is common experience that the engagement level of the audience in more if they can see the speaker as compared to sitting in a corner from where they can not see the speaker. From that point of view, the concept of putting on screens in every part of he mosque and outside as well looked like a good idea. It was a new experience for me. After the prayer, i just stood outside for some time to see people coming out. There were a lot tourists from different parts of the world who had come to pray. I had a 10 minute walk around the mosque to see the mosque from outside. I came back walking to the hotel.

Kilim Karst Geo Forest Park

Kilim geo forest is located on the eastern side of the Langkawi island near Kilim village. It is about 100 square kilometers of mangrove forests, Kilim river, beaches, caves and Karst mountains arising out of the seabed. The estimated life the limestone mountains is around 500 million years. They are covered with thick rainforest trees. The trees are lush green making the whole place very soothing to the eyes. There are also numerous caves. Some of the famous caves are bat caves, crocodile cave and legend cave. The best way to explore the Geo Forest is to hire a boat and go around the various landmarks. Previous day while coming from Pentai Cenang beach, I asked the taxi driver about the Kilim Park. He not only provided necessary information but also offered to arrange a guided tour. I took his number. Back in hotel I checked the various guided tours offered and their prices and realised that the deal given by the taxi driver was quite reasonable as it also included pick and drop from the hotel to the park. I called him and fixed the time for the next day. Still I was a bit apprehensive. I was feeling what marketing guys called cognitive dissonance. I part of me assured me that I have made the correct decision while another part of me cautioned that I may not get what is promised. Anyway, next day he was dot on time. The drive to the geo forest from my hotel in Kuah took around 20 minutes. The road is surrounded by tall green trees making the journey all the more enjoyable. Once at the taxi stand near Kilim Village (named after the Kilim river), we met our guide for the day. Our guide, Abdul Rahman, was a young man of around 20 years of age. He spoke reasonably good English. We said goodbye to our taxi driver who told us that he has to go somewhere but will be back before our tour ended. Abdul Rahman took us to the jetty where his boat was docked. Our journey started in the emerald green waters of the Kilim river.

Journey begins on Kilim River, Langkawi. Photo Credit © Mohsin Aziz.
Limestone Mountains covered with Trees alongside the Kilim River, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

There are numerous floating restaurants and floating fishing farms on the Kilim river. Our first stop in the river was a floating fish farm cum restaurant. The name of the restaurant was Amin Restaurant. It was also a floating fish farm. The owner, Mr. Daud was very welcoming. He was friend of Abdul Rahman. That’s common for tour guides any where. They get a percentage of sale for bringing in customers.

One can choose fish from the various containers on the boat where fish farming is done and carry on the tour. By the time, one comes back the fish is fried and ready to be enjoyed. I decided not to eat fish but we took some sandwiches, fresh coconut water and coffee.

One of the floating restaurants on the Kilim river. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Amin Floating Restaurant and Fish Farm on Kilim River. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

Mr. Daud was kind enough to show us the various stages of fish farming on his floating farm. There were various tanks submerged in river water from the boat but the fish could not go out as there were mesh around them. In these floating farms the owners don’t have to worry about water as fishes are in there natural habitat. Smaller fishes are kept in containers on the boat. When they are big enough, they are kept in these mesh nets. There was one container in water which had only four fishes. We came to know that those were pet fish of Mr. Daud. Each one had a name and they responded when Mr. Daud called out their names. They were Khadija, Aisha, Abdullah and Abdul Rahman. There were crabs and other varieties of edible sea creatures that were farmed there.

Fish Farming at Amin Restaurant and Fish Farm on Kilim River, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
I don’t know what i am holding in my palm on the Amin Floating Fish Farm, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

From the floating restaurant we were taken to the crocodile cave. There are crocodiles in the Kilim river. However, crocodile cave has been just named after crocodiles. It is not special meeting place for Kilim crocodiles. The roof of the crocodile cave is low and hence it can not be accessed by boat during high tide. Yes Kilim river has high and low tide like oceans and seas. Kilim river is connected to the Sea of Andaman and hence the tides along with the sea. Luckily when we reached the crocodile cave, it was low tide and our boat was able to go inside. It is a group of few small mountains which are hollow from below at certain points thus creating caves. We were all afraid looking for crocodiles but there was none to be seen.

 

Our Boat inside the crocodile cave. Its day time and almost dark inside. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

There are mangroves and limestone Karst mountains on both sides of the Kilim river. The mangroves are partially submerged plants which grow in saline and brackish coastal water. They are an important part of ecosystem and protect the area around them from flooding. They have to ability to store vast amount of carbon and are a key to combat climate change.

Our boat coming out of the cave and entering the mangroves. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Mangroves in Kilim Geo Park, Langkawi. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

A little later we entered the Gua Kelawar (the bat cave). We were given torches by our guide to see bats inside as the cave as the cave is pitch dark inside.

Map of Gua Kelawar (Bat Cave) Trail at the entrance of the cave. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Wooden bridge which meanders through the mangrove at Kilim Geo Forest. This is also the route to the Bat Cave. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

The route to the bat cave is through a wooden bridge which makes its way through the mangroves. The bridge has places to stop and take rest. The rest places are strategically located along the route and gives tourists time to not only rest but also marvel at the mangroves. We entered the bat cave with one more family. It was pitch dark inside. Even torch lights were not enough. When we put the torchlight on the roof of the cave we could see thousands of bats hanging upside down from the roof.

After our tour of bat cave was time to go out in the Andaman Sea. The Kilim river is surrounded by Karst Mountains on both the sides. However at one end there is an opening through which the river merges with the Andaman Sea. While we were going to the open sea, it started to rain. In the beginning it was only a drizzle however within ten minutes there was quite heavy rain with winds. The boat started to rock. Thankfully, our boat had a cover at top. I could see people in other boats getting totally drenched as their boats were open. We were worried as this was something new for us. Sitting in a small rocking boat with heavy rain and winds. I told Abdul Rahman to return back but he was very calm. He said that it was rainy season and the rain was not heavy. But after fifteen the rain became really heavy and we started our return journey. While returning we saw a lot of Kites and brown Eagles swooping down into the river to catch fish. By the time we came back to the jetty it was four hours and we did not even realise how time just flew away. Our taxi driver was waiting for us at the taxi stand as promised. We bid goodbye to Abdul Rahman and came back to hotel.

Hole in the wall. The point which connects Kilim River to Andaman Sea. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Kilim River meeting Andaman Sea. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Finally we are in the Andaman Sea. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

By the time returned to our hotel it was evening. We were all tired and decided to spend some time in hotel before venturing out at night for dinner. We took a taxi and told him to take us to any restaurant which served North Indian dishes (yes it was a very particular request). He took us to Pentai Cenang area which had lots of restaurants. We went to one called Mumbai and had a nice North India Paneer dish along with Chicken Biryani. Another day we came to the same area and went to Taj Mahal restaurant which serves very good Mughlai and Arabic dishes. In fact, the restaurant had two separate dining areas with Indian and Arabic decorations. They served really good Shawarma and Chicken Kadahi.

Sky Cab

The Sky Cab in Langkawi is a feat of engineering. This is one of the must do activity in Langkawi. The ticket cost also included a 5 minute Sky Dome 3 D show which to me looked like a waste of time. The ride itself was amazing with very nice view of the island while going up. The entrance is through oriental village which has lots of activities and restaurant also. The tickets start from 35 RM which seemed very reasonable. There are express lane tickets also which put you ahead of the line but they come at a cost. The view from the top is amazing. Surprisingly the upward journey was more scary as compared to coming down which is very smooth. One up at the station, it mist all around with very cool Sea breeze coming from Andaman Sea. Langkawi sky bridge is accessible from the top station. In face one has to go down the Mountain from the top station to reach Langkawi sky bridge. The steps are very slippery and become even more during rainy season. Langkawi sky bridge connects two mountains and is perhaps the most photographed Langkawi landmark. Camera is allowed and there is no fees for bringing camera. One on the sky-bridge, the mobile starts picking signals from Thailand and we started getting messages welcoming us to Thailand and what numbers to add for calling home (i.e. Malaysia). The same happened during boat ride from Kilim to Andaman Sea. Thailand is across Langkawi.

Ground Station of Sky Cab. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Sky Cab station at the top. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
On the way to the top. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Famous Langkawi Sky Bridge. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.
Seven Sisters Waterfall as seen from the Sky Cab. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

On our down journey we could see beautiful waterfalls. The most famous being the seven sisters. I could not visit it, but saw it from the sky cab. It is called so because it forms seven ponds at different levels while dropping from almost 90 meters. Maybe I can visit it some other time in future if luck takes me again to Langkawi. There is no doubt that of all the places that I have visited so far, Langkawi is one where me and my family would like to go again. Whenever, we think of Langkawi, we think of a peaceful laid back island with lush green rain forest trees, drizzle and cool breeze. It indeed is a beautiful place.

Note: This journey took place in September and October 2015. Written during lock-down of 2020 from notes.

Educating the community: Some inspiring news and some random thoughts

A group of Ulema from the Indian State of Jharkhand have appealed to Muslims to solemnize marriages with simplicity. They have decided not to officiate marriages with baraat (often the big group of people who accompany bridegroom to the bride’s house for marriage) or unnecessary extravaganza. It is indeed a welcome decision.

Anyway, many were already forced to drastically cut down on marriage related celebrations due to lockdown. Billions of rupees are spent every year on marriages. Not all expenses are unnecessary, but a huge part of the expenses fall in the category of unnecessary.

A similar report about Meerut city in the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh estimates that around 60000 nikah have taken place in Uttar Pradesh alone during lockdown. The report also mentioned about how marriages were done with less than 10 to 15 people from both the sides. The news report also mentions as to how the simplicity in marriage ceremonies is helping families save significant amount of money. In fact, some people have mentioned that if not for the forced simplicity due to lockdown they would have taken loan to perform marriage with all the required extravaganza due to social pressure. I was just making some rough calculations. Imagine each person saving rupees one lakh due to reduced expenses. This is a very conservative estimate. 60000 marriages saving one lakh each amount to massive 600 crore. This is the saving only during the lockdown period and only from one state. Even if we take this as amount saved in a whole year still it is a huge amount. Let us assume that 75% of this saved amount is used by the family and 25% is used on education of the community. That would still be 150 crores. Assuming that it requires around 2 crore rupees to start a new school, this amount of money is enough to open 75 schools every year. It would not take more than 10 years to transform the education map of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh.   It is high time that the community starts thinking along these lines.

It reminded me of a silent movement already going on in the Muslim community on the need to save money on marriage and cut down on multiple umrah and instead use the money on educating the children of the community. A Faizur Rahman of Harmony India and Prof. Aslam Parvaiz, Vice Chancellor of Maulana Azad Urdu University, Hyderabad, India have calculated the amount of money spent by Rich Indian Muslims every year on Umrah. Their rough estimate shows that the money spent on Umrah just for one year can fund the education of 3 lakh kids for 18 years. They are not asking people not to go on Umrah, they are simply asking them not to go every year as many rich Muslims are doing and rather spend the money on the betterment of the community.

I would finish by taking excerpts from an article by Maulana Hafizur Rahman Azami Omeri where he has quoted Imam Ghazali on such practices. “These rich people are very fond of spending their money on the Hajj. They perform the Hajj again and again sometimes even at the cost of their neighbours suffering in hunger”.

For reference and further reading, see:

Aas Mohammad Kaif Twocircles.net (30 May 2020) लॉकडाऊन में इस्लामि कैसे बन गए निकाह के तौर-तरीक़े ! Twocircles.net. Available at: http://twocircles.net/2020may30/437185.html. Accessed on 4 June 2020.

News 18 Urdu (3 June 2020) جھارکھنڈ کے علمائےکرام کا بڑا فیصلہ، شادی میں دھوم دھام اور فضول خرچی

ہوئی تو نکاح نہیں پڑھائیں گے جھارکھنڈ کے علمائےکرام کا اعلان

Available at: https://urdu.news18.com/news/nation/big-decisions-of-religious-leaders-of-jharkhand-for-the-efforts-of-social-reform-nau-ns-305484.html. Accessed on 6 June 2020.

Maulana Hafizur Rahman Azami Omeri (25 May 2012) Multiple Hajj and Umrahs are not a priority in Islam. Twocirlces.net. Available at: http://twocircles.net/2012may25/multiple_hajj_and_umrahs_are_not_priority_islam.html. Accessed on 20 May 2020.

Rasheed Kidwai (24 March 2019) ‘Rich Muslims’ expense on Umrah, marriage can teach 3 lakh poor Muslim kids for 18 yrs’. The Print. Available at: https://theprint.in/opinion/rich-muslims-expense-on-umrah-marriage-can-teach-3-lakh-poor-muslim-kids-for-18-yrs/210834/. Accessed on 27 December 2019.

Black lives matter, Every Life matters

On 25th May 2020, Minneapolis Police arrested a 46-year-old Black American named George Floyd for buying cigarettes with counterfeit 20 dollars. There were four policemen involved. One police officer named Derek Chauvin pinned George Floyd to the ground and kept his knee on Floyds neck for full 8 minutes and 46 seconds even when Floyd was lying unconscious. In the videos George Floyd is repeatedly heard saying that he can’t breathe. His last words which can be heard in videos are I can’t breathe, Man. Please. Mama. Mama. I can’t breathe. Still the policeman did not remove his knee from Floyd’s neck. Derek Chauvin has been charged with murder and manslaughter. All four policemen involved have been fired by the Minneapolis police department. The medical report has classified Floyd’s death as homicide. It was through the CCTV cameras and videos made by bystanders that the world came to know about this heinous crime. The videos sparked a wave of protests across United States, some of them even turning violent with arson and looting.

Today America is burning. America is wounded and in pain. America is in turmoil and mourning. The person at the helm of affairs is further dividing the great country instead of providing the healing touch. He has been calling governors to do more and to dominate the protestors and telling some of the Governor that if they fail to dominate the protestors they will “look like a bunch of jerks”. So much so that the Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo while talking to Christian Amanpour offered some strong advice. He said ‘ Let me just say this to the President of the United States on the behalf of the police chiefs in this country: Please, if you don’t have something constructive to say, Keep your mouth shut, because you’re putting men and women in their early twenties at risk”.

Personally, I connect to this incident at a quite deeper level. One of the abiding and life shaping memories of my childhood is perhaps the only time I was beaten by my father. This is about 1978 or 79 when I was in either Kindergarten 1 or Kindergarten 2. There was a group of foreign students who lived in rented apartments near our house in Aligarh. Today Aligarh is a city of almost million residents. Back then it was a small University Town known for the world-renowned Aligarh Muslim University. Besides, students from all over India, it drew students from around the globe. There were a lot of foreign students in the University. However, the sizable majority of foreign students comprised mostly from various African countries, Thailand, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Palestine. I was playing with other kids from the neighborhood outside the house when one of the African students passed by on his bicycle. Some kids in my groups started calling him black man. I also joined in without even knowing what it meant. Thankfully, my father was sitting in the drawing room with outside door open and listened to us shouting those ugly words. By the time he came out to stop us, that student was gone. My father came straight to me and next thing I remember is a slap. Not only me, all the kids got a slap each. Next, we were all assembled by my father in the drawing room of our house. We were told and explained that all human beings are equal and that the colour of the skin and religion or facial features are not an excuse to discriminate, exclude or humiliate anybody. Because my father did not know where that fellow lived, he waited for next day and when that student passed by again, he was requested to stop. My father took me to him, and I was asked to say sorry for my previous day behaviour. My father also apologized on our behalf to that student. He was a nice fellow. He not only accepted our apology but put his hand on my head and said its ok. After that he became friends with all the kids, and we used to say hello aloud whenever he passed by. That was an extremely valuable lesson for me. Since then I have never discriminated against anybody because of colour of skin. We have to teach our kids from very early age otherwise they may learn and imbibe to hate somebody or discriminate against somebody from their environment. Today in the list of my heroes are a lot of black icons ranging from Dr. Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela to Mohammad Ali to Rosa Parks to Maya Angelou. They keep on inspiring people and are role models for people from around the world.

Let’s pray and work for a day when nobody has to beg for life, when nobody has to beg to breath, when nobody has to beg to be heard, when nobody has to beg to be treated equally, when nobody has to beg for dignity just because of his or her colour of skin or gender or religion. Am I hoping for too much? I hope not.

For references and more details, see:

Most dangerous ways to school

While browsing internet one day my wife stumbled upon a documentary series called “Most dangerous ways to school”. It was out of curiosity that we decided to give it a try. We all started a bit apprehensive as documentaries are usually too much detailed and often boring unless one is interested in the topic. Surprisingly, it turned out to be one of the most meaningful and beautiful documentaries that we have seen recently. By the end of the documentary we realized that there is a whole series covering different isolated communities from around the world. So far, we have seen quite a few and to say that the series is amazing and has been a huge learning experience would be an understatement. It exposes one to the different cultures and traditions and the diversity of living conditions from around the world. The series really makes one realize how blessed one is. To see that simple things in life that most of us take for granted are luxuries and beyond the reach of so many around us was a truly humbling experience. While during lockdown many of us are always complaining about the favourite ice cream flavour not being available, the series brings us the stark reality of so many of us around the world who survive on so little and are still happy. Despite their crushing poverty, they have the desire to succeed and are able to celebrate life whenever they can with whatever little they have.  The series gives us a peek into the lives of the people living in remote parts of the world. The series also brings with all force the sacrifices that so many families are making so that their children can study and live a better life than themselves. It also brings to fore the perseverance of the kids, often less than 10 years of age, in the face of adversity. The whole series is a great education for kids to know and learn about different countries and cultures. They are not only fun to watch for kids; they are virtual geography class without the often-boring lectures.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

For the kids braving the difficult terrain to reach school, they learn to work as team and help each other on the way. I believe they learn more on the way to school then inside the school. When they grow up most of them would be much better team workers and leaders than their school peers who come from privileged backgrounds. The series highlights what difficulties and adversities families and children are ready to face to get education in the hope of a better future. For most of us, getting to school is boring routine affair. For many it can be life threatening journey. Quintus Media’s series entitles ‘The most dangerous ways to school’ highlights just that.  The series is produced by Maximum Films. It shows the struggle of kids to reach school living in remote communities from around the world. One the one hand is spectacular natural beauty while on the other hand is the life-threatening danger that the environment poses to the kids on their way to school. Still its gratifying to see young children battling all odds to reach school. The way to school lies precariously balanced between the surviving the elements and their hunger and thirst for knowledge. From kids in Nepal and Columbia using zip lines to cross rivers and gorges to kids in Peru navigating snake infested jungles to small kids in Nicaragua crossing river on their own to kids in Siberia going to school on horseback early morning in -50 degree Celsius to kids in Papua New Guinea walking in jungle for 7 days or Ladakh for 4 days in -40 degrees so that they can get admission in school is fabulous. Most of the families are so poor that they cannot even afford shoes for their children. What is striking about these amazing kids is that before walking 2 to 3 hours to reach school every day they also help their parents in fields. It is worth watching. Go watch with your kids. They will learn so much more about life.  

Ramadan: The month of Charity

Ramadan is the month of charity. Although it is not obligatory to pay Zakat in the month of Ramadan, most Muslims pay their Zakat in Ramadan. Besides Zakat, there is obligatory Fitra to be paid to the poor before the Eid Prayer. Besides these two obligatory charities, lot of Sadaqa (Voluntary Charity) is paid during Ramadan. It is not that one is not encouraged to do charity throughout the year and do it only in the month of Ramadan. However, it was the Sunnah of the Prophet to do more charity in the month of Ramadan. It is reported that during the month of Ramadan the prophet used to do so much charity that he was likened to fast blowing wind.

It is narrated by Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) “The Prophet (peace be upon him) was the most generous amongst the people, and he used to be more so in the month of Ramadan when Gabriel visited him, and Gabriel used to meet him on every night of Ramadan till the end of the month. The Prophet used to recite the Holy Qur’an to Gabriel, and when Gabriel met him, he used to be more generous than a fast wind” (Sahih Al Bukhari: Book No. 31: Hadith No. 126).

Qur’an exhorts the believers to do charity and equals it to load given to Allah which will be returned in multiples on the day of Judgement.

“Who is it that would loan Allah a goodly loan so He may multiply it for him many times over? And it is Allah who withholds and grants abundance, and to Him you will be returned” (Surah Al Baqarah 2:245).

At another place Qur’an explains the benefit of charity by giving the example of grain of corn. According to Quran:

The likeness of those who spend their money for Allah’s sake, is as the likeness of a grain (of corn), it grows seven ears, every single ear has a hundred grains, and Allah multiplies (increases the reward) for whom He wills, and Allah is All-Sufficient for His creatures needs, All Knower(Surah Al Baqarah 2: 261)

Those who spend of their goods (in charity) by night and by day in secret and in public shall have their reward with their Lord: on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve” (Surah Al Baqarah 2:274)

The literal meaning of Zakat is purification and growth. It is a specific amount of money due to be spent on specific accounts after the passage of specific time. There are numerous spiritual, psychological as well as economic benefits of charity, especially zakat.

Spiritually it brings the giver closer to the Creator. There is no denying the fact that physical ibadah (worship) does not affect a person as deeply and does not put as much burden on him or his resources as parting with hard earned money. It is also a form of informal social insurance system which takes care of the basic needs of the poorer sections of the society by the wealthier section. In this way it bridges the gap between the rich and the poor which may lead to many unwanted situations. It creates a feeling of love and brotherhood between the rich and the poor and thus reduces social tensions also.

It has a psychological dimension as well. It has a positive affect of the giver, the receiver, and the society at large. It purifies the property and assets of the giver, restraints his lust for wealth and material goods and creates in him the virtue and urge to share with less fortunate ones. It uplifts the giver from a life of materialism and self-gratification to a life endowed with a higher moral purpose.

Sadaqa and Zakat prepares one to spend in the way of Allah willingly and largeheartedly. It drives away greed and pride from the wealthy and does away with glaring income inequality and at the same time imperceptibly effects a gradual redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor.

Economically it prevents concentration of wealth by circulating it in the society by transferring wealth from the rich to the poor. It redistributes real income among the members of the society by redistributing a part of purchasing power from the rich to the poor. It is well known economic fact that poor tend to spend most of their income on basic necessities of life as compared to the rich who spend less proportion of their wealth on basic necessities. A major part of the wealth of the rich is spent on luxuries of life. When charity is paid by the rich to the poor it helps in the circulation of money in the economy by creating demand for basic necessities of life.

It also discourages hoarding and accumulation of idle wealth. It ensures to put the waiting resources back into economic activity by pushing every bit of idle wealth into production activity by increasing the cost of waiting.

Let us pay our Zakat and give Sadaqa to reap the spiritual rewards in the holy month of Ramadan. Let us reach out to the less fortunate and make a difference in somebodies’ life. Let us make this Ramadan more fulfilling and satisfying.

Take Me Home, Country Road

Country Roads, take me home

To the place I belong

Dark and dusty, painted on the sky

Misty taste of moonshine

Teardrop in my eye

Country roads, take me home

To the place I belong ………

I get a feelin’

That I should have been home

Yesterday, yesterday

Country roads, take me home

To the place I belong

(Take Me Home, Country Road. Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert and John Denver, 1971)

We are witnessing a huge migration of labourers from Indian metropolitan cities to their native villages. It is estimated that almost 40 to 50% of the workers in cities like Delhi and Mumbai are migrant labourers come from outside, mostly from from other states. Television channels are beaming images of workers trying to move out of the cities back to their villages. Majority of these workers are in petty jobs and have a hand to mouth survival. The lock down, thought essential for containing the pandemic, has rendered them vulnerable. Whatever meager savings these workers had have been finished by now, thus, the desperation to go back home.

The big cities provide jobs to the millions of job seekers from the hinterlands but do not provide any social security to the workers to fall back in times of needs. Most of those who work in cities maintain their ties back home. In the villages back home, they know that they can rely on social network and can fall back on extended family and friend network to survive these tough times. That is the reason, they are moving in thousands using every possible means. They are going on trucks, auto-rickshaw, bullock carts, handmade carts with wheels etc. Besides there is a huge majority which is sampling walking back home. Some of them are willing to walk even up to 1400 kilometres. They are ready to undertake this journey because they know that once home, at least they will have two meals a day. Lets hope that these poor and vulnerable find solace once they reach home.

Hey its good to be back home again

Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend

Yes, ‘n, hey its good to be back home again

(Back Home Again, John Denver, 1974)