An Annoying Trend in Restaurants

The other night we were eating at a restaurant and enjoying it. We were out for a family dinner. The restaurant is highly regarded. Life was good. And the food was great. But then it happened again. “Are you done with that?” the server asked. “Can I get it out of your way?” “No,” I said. “We’re not done eating.” I had to repeat “Please do not take an empty plate from one person while others are still eating the same course. Wait, wait, wait.” Restaurants seem to have abandoned, or simply overlooked, a classic tenet of service etiquette. Rather than clear plates once everyone at the table has finished the meal, which has long been the custom, servers instead hover over diners, until the very instant someone puts down a spoon. If you’re lucky, they might ask permission before stealing your plate. When a server clears a plate before everyone is finished, he or she leaves the table with a mess of subtle but important signals. Those who are still eating are made to feel as though they are holding others up; those who are not are made to feel as though they have rushed the meal. Why that subtlety seems to evade so many restaurants these days is unclear. Publicly, restaurants might argue that they are trying to avoid clutter; privately, they might encourage waiters to speed tables along; but what it amounts to is an uncomfortable dining […]

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International Day of Yoga in Baghdad

Yoga is an Indian physical, mental, and spiritual practice or discipline. There is a broad variety of schools, practices and goals in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The origins of Yoga have been speculated to date back to pre-Vedic Indian traditions, but most likely developed around the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, in ancient India’s ascetic circles, which are also credited with the early sramana movements. The chronology of earliest texts describing yoga-practices is unclear, varyingly credited to Hindu Upanishads and Buddhist Pāli Canon, probably of 3rd century BCE or later. Maharshi Patanjali compiled Yoga sutras, which forms the basis of yoga circa 400 CE. Derived from the Sanskrit word yuj, Yoga means union of the individual consciousness or soul with the Universal Consciousness or Spirit. Yoga is over 6000 year old Indian body of knowledge. Though many think of yoga only as a physical exercise where people twist, turn, stretch, and breathe, these are only superficial aspects of a profound science of unfolding the infinite potentials of the human mind and soul. Yoga gurus from India later introduced yoga to the west, following the success of Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th and early 20th century. In the 1980s, yoga became popular as a system of physical exercise across the Western world. June 21 was declared as the International Day of Yoga by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on December 11, 2014. The declaration of this day came after the call […]

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The Tradition Of Vedic Chanting

The Vedas comprise a vast corpus of Sanskrit poetry, philosophical dialogue, myth, and ritual incantations developed and composed by Aryans over 3,500 years ago. Regarded by Hindus as the primary source of knowledge and the sacred foundation of their dharma, the Vedas embody one of the worlds oldest surviving cultural traditions. The oral tradition of the Vedas consists of several pathas, “recitations” or ways of chanting the Vedic mantras. Such traditions of Vedic chant are often considered the oldest unbroken oral tradition in existence, the fixation of the Vedic texts (samhitas) as preserved dating to roughly the time of Homer (early Iron Age). The tradition of Vedic chanting is on UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Vedic chant is the expression of hymns from the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of Hinduism. The practice dates back at least 3,000 years and is probably the world’s oldest continuous vocal tradition. The earliest collection, or Saṃhitā, of Vedic texts is the Rigveda, containing about 1,000 hymns. These are chanted in syllabic style—a type of heightened speech with one syllable to a tone. Three levels of pitch are employed: a basic reciting tone is embellished by neighbouring tones above and below, which are used to emphasize grammatical accents in the texts. These Rigveda hymns are the basis for a later collection, the Sāmaveda (“Veda of the Chants”), the hymns of which are sung in a style that is more florid, melodic, and […]

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Keema & Rice in Office

Our colleague Ibrahim today brought keema and rice from his home for us. Keema is a traditional South Asian meat dish. Originally this word meant minced meat. It is typically minced mutton curry with peas or potatoes although it can be made from almost any meat, can be cooked by stewing or frying, and can be formed into kababs. Keema is also sometimes used as a filling for samosas or naan. In Iraq, cooking keema during the month of Muharram is an Ashura ritual and often lasts until Arbaeen, 40 days after the day of the death of Imam Hussein, or the Day of Ashura. It’s believed here that people will be blessed if they serve food to food to pilgrims and neighbours during Ashura in honor of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad. Imam Hussein along within his relatives and his followers were massacred on the plains of Karbala in 680 CE. They had no food or water during their battle with the forces of Caliph Yazid. The food is meant as a blessing for the soul of Imam Hussein. Shiites ask forgiveness for Imam Hussein’s death and to atone for their own sins. Iraqis make keema from chickpeas, meat, tomato paste, spices, salt and dry lemons – known locally as Basra lemons  in large pans and distribute the food to friends and anyone passing by. Keema was quite tasty and nice. Thanks Ibrahim! 

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Are We Indians Racists?

This is the sad truth that we are guilty of racism: not always but distressingly often. It’s shameful. Yet, we are blissfully unaware and unconcerned. “Racism is a mindset of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage — the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry” — Ayn Rand. Traditionally we’re not racists. We are continuing with the same old British education system and the history taught to us by the British. Their education system was divisive and most suited for continuity of their imperialism. “Many hundreds of years before the coming of the English, the nations of India had been a collection of wealthy and highly civilized people, possessed of great language with an elaborate code of laws and social regulations, with exquisite artistic taste in architecture and decoration, producing conceptions which have greatly influenced the development of the most progressive races of the West.” — Henry Mayer Hyndman, 20th Century British politician. Since independence, there has been no serious effort to create the Indian-ness. Sadly, the vote-bank politics is widening the social divide. India is endowed with the beauty of diversity in languages, geography, features, habits, cultures, religions, ethnicity and origins. We were not like this before. We accepted everybody with open hands. We lost that tolerance, that sense of acceptance. Before British, whosoever came to India became a part of it, from Shaka, […]

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Vasant Panchami

Today is the Vasant Panchami. Vasant Panchami, also known as Saraswati Puja, Shree Panchami, or the Basant Festival is a popular festival to seek blessings from the goddess of wisdom, knowledge, music, art and culture. Hindus celebrate Vasant Panchami with great fervor in temples, homes and even schools and colleges. Saraswati’s favorite color white assumes special significance on this day. This day has a great impact on my life as I started writing for the first time in my life this day 48 years ago. In Baghdad, I just remember this day and pray to the Goddess to keep my thirst for learning alive forever and I may attain enlightenment in my life through knowledge. I celebrate this day in Baghdad in absolute solitariness. Vasant Panchami is an important Indian festival celebrated every year in the month of Magh according to the Hindu calendar. Celebrated on the fifth day of Magh, the day falls somewhere in the months of February or January according to the Gregorian calendar. The significance of the day lies in the worship of Maa Saraswati, the goddess of learning, wisdom, knowledge, fine arts, refinement, science and technology. People worship Goddess Saraswati to attain enlightenment through knowledge and to rid themselves of lethargy, sluggishness and ignorance. According to the popular belief, the origins of this festival lie in Aryan period. Aryans came and settled in India through Khyber Pass, crossing the Saraswati River among many others. Being a primitive […]

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The Call of Eternal Ganges

In Hindu tradition Triveni Sangam is the “confluence” of three rivers. Sangam is the Sanskrit word for confluence. The point of confluence is a sacred place for Hindus. A bath here is said to wash away all of one’s sins and free one from the cycle of rebirth. One such Triveni Sangam, in Prayag (Allahabad) has two physical rivers Ganges, Yamuna, and the invisible or mythic Saraswati River. The site is in Prayag (Allahabad). This is also the place we visited in February 2013 for Maha Kumbh Mela. The Triveni Sangam is believed to be the same place where drops of Nectar fell from the pitcher, from the hands of the Gods. So it is believed that a bath in the Sangam will wash away all one’s sins and will clear the way to heaven. Devout Hindus from all over India come to this sacred pilgrimage point to offer prayers and take a dip in the holy waters.The three rivers maintain their identity and are visibly different as they merge. While the Yamuna is deep but calm and greenish in colour, the Ganga is shallow, but forceful and clear. The Saraswati remains hidden, but the faithful believe that she makes her presence felt underwater. The distinct colours can be seen at the confluence. As the monsoon has started, the rivers are in full flow, the confluence of the rivers is seen clearly due to the force of the water, but […]

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In office on a Public Holiday

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Today has been declared as a public holiday in Baghdad to commemorate the death of Imam Moussa ibn Jaafar al-Kadhim, the seventh of 12 principal Shiite imams, who died in 799. Shiites walk for hours, and often for days, from across the country to reach the mosque in Kadhimiyah, known for its twin golden domes. The mosque was built atop […]

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Shubho Nababarsha 1420!

“নির্মল করো, উজ্জ্বল করো, সুন্দর কর হে। জাগ্রত করো, উদ্যত করো, নির্ভয় করো হে।” অনন্ত শুভকামনা ১৪২০এ সকলকে। Happy Poila Baisakh! Shubho Nababarsha 1420! Happy Bengali New Year 1420!

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Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad

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Maha Kumbh mela is considered as the biggest festival of Hindus in the entire world. This was amply proved by observing a sea of more than 30 million Hindu devotees gathered at the confluence of 3 rivers (Triveni Sangam) at Allahabad (Prayagraj) on 10 February. The tithi (Auspicious day) of Mauni Amavasya began from 3.15 p.m. on 9 February. Since […]

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