Buffalo, New York, USA
January 01
Traveling through the universe.....just tarrying on this planet savoring life. I get the "Last Word" sometimes in "The Indian American' and relish the privilege to have a few Op-eds published in "News India Times". Niche 'n nice!


DECEMBER 6, 2009 3:12AM


Rate: 19 Flag


The Geese in December 2009 001

       Canadian Geese flew in today by the hundreds. Calling and chortling southward bound, they rested their wings for bit in my lake. 

The Geese in December 2009 008

       They stood like soldiers in a line on one foot as if saluting.  Wary of putting both down and resting for too long, they needed to move on, they said.

The Geese in December 2009 011

The birds told me their tales. I told them of my favorite short story “Kabuliwala” written by Rabindranath Tagore (Nobel Prize, 1913). Rehmat, a middle-aged fruit seller from Afghanistan (owes money to the lender) comes to Calcutta to hawk his merchandise and befriends a small Bengali girl called Minnie and her father, who is the storyteller. Minnie is the same age as his own daughter who he has had to leave behind and he misses so dearly.

As soon as the father sees this man Rehmat from Kabul (thus the name Kabuliwala), he "imagines the mountains, the glens, and the forests of distant Afghanistan, with a cottage in its setting, and the free and independent life of far-away wilds. In the presence of this Kabuliwala, the father is transported to the foot of arid mountain peaks, with narrow little defiles twisting in and out amongst their towering heights. He sees the string of camels bearing the merchandise, and the company of turbaned merchants, carrying some of their queer old firearms, and some of their spears, journeying downward towards the plains." (from translation)

The story goes on to tell about the character of Afghani men such as Rehmat who are free of spirit, strong, fiercely honest, and loving fathers. He gets sent to jail for assaulting a thief who tries to con him and falsely accuse him. He takes his punishment of hard labor for 10 years and when he comes out of jail he visits  Minnie one last time before returning home to Kabul. It is Minnie’s wedding day and he realizes that his own daughter  must have grown up too in the ten years and would perhaps not recognize him anymore, just as Minnie does not rememeber him at all.

Minnie’s father urges Kabuliwala to return home to Afghanistan and rejoices in the end

         I flirted with the geese for a bit with my lens and told them of a war we were fighting in far away Afghanistan, the land of Kabuliwala. I told them of thirty thousand of my brothers and sisters who would be flying eastward soon. The birds perhaps would not be meeting them in their southward path. 

        They were stumped at the human reasons I detailed. Responding to survival instincts, they could not fathom any other reason for traveling such distances. They did not understand the term "war". They shook their heads and went their way with a flurry of feathers and wings…and I wondered how many would I see again?

The Geese in December 2009 010a



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Beautiful story!

"They did not understand the term "war". They shook their heads and went their way with a flurry of feathers and wings…and I wondered how many would I see again?"

I wish we didn't understand the term "war" either. Think of how cool that would be.
I have faith in my choice this election and yet cannot understand the reasoning behind the new decision. In my confusion and utter dismay I return back to the story of my youth which describes all common (hu) man of the world as simple and loving and caring. One can make an enemy out of anyone if they want to. Who decides who is wrong and who is right? Who are the bad guys and who the good?
Thank you for the visit Nana, It would be cool. We are an animal species that can interpret looks and extrapolate what they might mean and feel and think about the past present and future and yet...........
This is simply lovely. The humanity is refreshing. What a classy post.
I hope more think like you do.
A few moments after I posted my reply to Nana in the morning today I noticed the huge OS breakdown. That's it I thought I had caused this major crash by my post. So I laid low till now. I hear it really was a crash that severely impacted all... My apologies ;)!

Thank you so much, but I am seriously disturbed and I feel this is time we should all be in the streets. If this is not the time then when? I trust the new administration and I feel awful about the decision. Both true and irreconcilable! What webs we weave!!!
"They were stumped at the human reasons I detailed." I am stumped, also at the human reasons that we detail!

Well done, traveler.
The whole day today we heard Clinton and Gates giving all kinds of reasons and explanations . Peggy Noonan is the one to point out the nine years?? And we have to wait month by month to see what we all think. Why? In the meantime how does the soldier think? Does he believe in his mission? Does he believe that he is achieving anything so far away from home? And if they do not what then? And if they do what then? The enemy is called "Terrorism" and we are at war with who?
Well worth the wait. Traveller, you are an amazing woman!
Wonderful way to frame the beautiful Tagore story. And would that 'war' was a distant memory the world over. I hear you about 'faith in your choice' and also hear the frustration over the events . . .

It IS time to hit the streets. I'm thinking that is one good way to organize - they are thinking revolution! Recent post was called "We Will Be Your Insurgency." There are 3 members of the WCW steering committee here on OS: Jill McLaughlin, Emma Kaplan, and Dennis Loo.

And Mike Moore is on it - recent headline covering protests of Obama's surge was called "Sleeper Cells Awakened." Gives me hope that progressives might actually AWAKEN here! Rated.
I understand the merits of strong leaders and I get the frustration of those who feel threatened and the fear of anarchy and terror. I have been there a few times in my own life. And yes I fought for my life with my bare arms and teeth and all that I had and am glad to have escaped a few scrapes.....
The war machinery is too complicated and there is no bravery in mass killing innocents who are not responsible for what their governments do. The common man is the same everywhere in the world. There HAS to be another way. If there are 3 components : security, politics and diplomacy then why is there this incredible emphasis on only one of them?
Dragonlady, Your reply gave me information to look up and check out. Is there anything else a common citizen can do ? The more I know the better choices I can make for myself. Thank you!
Great story. Reminds me of stories my Great Granny would tell me about Italy when she was a little girl, 130 years ago.
A master in the genre of short stories Tagore's Kabuliwala stands out as one of the best. It has been made into two full length feature films and were highly acclaimed. Our very first understanding of the Afghans has been through this story. They have remained quite unchanged in their intensity of character and they still hold "iman" pretty high. Thank you for the visit Prof. Stories such as these transcend time ad thus are classics.........
you have a beautiful lake and mind both :)
Tink and Julie...I had been thinking over the issue since the Tuesday announcement and realized that what I know about Afghans having lived in India starts from Tagore. I dont know if he ever traveled there before he wrote the story.... which is why I say an armchair traveler is sometimes better than a real one specially one with an insight into the character of a place. But the fierce honesty of his main character shines throughout the story notwithstanding his quick temper, aggression and acting instinctively. A wronged human in any part of the world would act the same. Thank you for tarrying a bit.
A lovely story. All too often all Islamic men are demonized which is not the case.
I do not understand the inner workings of this last war. I do know that at least some of the women there are still hopeful of the security necessary for them. Bush messed up a chance to really change a society by emphasizing women's part in making and keeping peace.
I do not know.
But I do love your geese. They are loyal and loving animals to each other.
O'Steph, There was a time not too long ago, when Islam was the ruling class of the world. Perhaps the resentment originates there. Those days Monarchy was the rule. Monarchy goes along with the usual tools of repression and control. Every system has its own demons of control. Would you agree that a good king, a benign king is better than a leader who hides under the mask of democracy and brings about mayhem upon the poeples?

Right and wrong are not so clearly defined in this world of inequality and injustice. So when people make out "good guy" and "bad guys " I feel they have watched too many movies where these categories have been clearly defined. In reality one's bad guy is another's great guy! So what is the war about? bring about changes in womens' lives around the world... there need not be wars. Women are treated unfairly everywhere and anywhere. No one can teach anyone pride or honesty or honor. Everyone can help. It is a social issue which cannot be solved by wars. Education, awareness and economy are involved. Politics and diplomacy are involved.

Wars just artificially bring about the instability needed to push through social agendas which have poor infrastructure and poorer long term vision. How can they succeed?
Wonderful post, Traveller. Love the analogies and the way the geese find what is going on with the decision to escalate the war incomprehensible. I find it incomprehensible as well.

What I think we on the left forget is that Obama told us all during the campaign that Afghanistan is where he wanted to fight and not Iraq. His decision is not news. He has always been a centrist with totally pragmatic instincts.

We, on the other hand, are far more the idealists and are wounded when he does what he said he would do, and further wounded when he does not do things he said he would do, like fighting to undo the laws which usurp power to the Executive such as the Patriot act, etc.

What happened is that we now are in a place where our idealism makes infinitely more sense than does his pragmatism and the result is further disillusionment.

For me the irony is that I knew all along that he was a centrist, wrote blog posts about it before and after the election, and yet even knowing that it still frustrates that he does not really represent what I voted for.

I am perfectly willing to give Obama the fact that he had spoken about this on his campaign but it still does not make the decision the right one. In fact both my husband and me had serious concerns when he kept saying it. It almost seemed as if he did not appreciate the history of the region , the eternal fight between the mountain people and the plains people and the character of the Afghan. One may say... but what is he supposed to do ...sit around and watch the terrorists multiply? After all that region has been terrorizing for decades before 2001. My point is more about why are the 3 sides of the probelm not been tackled at once? why the inordinate stress on the military?
How can WE train a people who have been war-ing from their infancy. Do yout hink the type of weapons makes a difference? No. that was proved in Vietnam. There has to be a better way and diplomacy, education, politics, social issues, raising awareness, seems to be more the way i would press on hugely.
My sister tells me the common man in the Arab countries are chagrined and united again in their hatred and villification of USA. I wonder if this was not the moment he could have seized to bring in a wide range of approaches to the table.
The analogy that was even more frightening and sad was "and I wondered how many would I see again?"
You talk to geese? I'm a hummingbird man myself. Trouble is, they don't stick around long enough.
Great post. Great pix.
Such a clever, unusual and moving idea to weave these two stories together. I will have to check out the author you mentioned.
Thank you John for your comment which I always treasure!

@ RW thanks

@ Emma : Man has learned to fly the skies and globalized the world only to send thousands of humans in the vain pursuit of war. If it was indeed defense of one's land against aggression it might be justified but to be the aggressor with no real humanitarian reason has got to make everyone think of who we are, who we have been and who we want to be.
Obama speaks today and defends his position in Afghanistan and says that the people from there attacked US. No they were not. An Afghan would not even think of it. EAch and everyone of the terrorist was from another land. Afghanistan is a big country and impoverished with no centralized government. Does the common Afghan deserve to die for it?

Its truly a story for the birds!!!
This is beautifully done. Despite all of the reasons and promises regarding this war it is nonetheless a war and that alone should always give us pause.

The true cost of war is rarely extracted from those who make the decisions but rather taken violently from many who would have chosen most any other course.

I really appreciate how you blended heart and information into this piece.
Rated and appreciated.
@ Dennis, The brilliant speech given by the Pres while accepting his prize gave me pause. As much as I think his assertion of USA underwriting the security of the world is a good point, I also think USA has done so knowing fully well the power that goes along with it. "With great power comes greater responsibility...(!)" Protecting the standard of life here has a price attached and that can be quite quite prohibitively expensive.
JK Brady, Thank you for the visit. The "dwandha" (conflict) in war has been discussed forever. Starting from Mahabharat where Lord Krishna apparently tries to show Arjun his dharma and his duty . Was not convinced then and am not convinced now. There has to be a better way to solve conflict among humans.