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September 21, 2003

ARTICLE: For the love of Iraqi Children

         By Karamatullah K. Ghori


Human suffering has inspired artists and creative humans throughout the recorded history of man on this planet. Jesus Christ's agony on the cross loomed like a colossus over centuries of Renaissance paintings in Europe. All other themes were simply dwarfed by it. In our own Islamic and South Asian literature, the epic struggle of Hussain, the Holy Prophet's (PBUH) grandson at the battle Of Kerbala and his persecution have churned out mountains of erudite contributions in both prose and poetry. 

Human suffering at a collective level has had its own poignancy for artists and literati and world literature is redolent with epic sagas of misery and pain in which children figure as the most unwitting victims. The 20th century was especially notorious for inflicting untold misery and suffering on children. These hapless victims of human greed and an insatiable appetite for aggrandizement have dotted the canvas of our living memory from Africa to Europe, Asia to South America. 

But, perhaps, no other children in the burgeoning ranks of man-made tragedies have suffered as much as the children of Iraq. Thirteen years of history's most punishing sanctions against the whole mass of Iraq's 24 million people undoubtedly took the heaviest toll on the children of that blighted land. Close to a million of them perished in that unremitting and tortuous spell of sanctions. 

The UN agencies, like UNICEF and WHO, estimated that out of more than half of the Iraqi children under five suffered from chronic malnutrition, one third never made it past their fifth birthday. Bedraggled children scrounging for scraps of food at garbage dumps was a common sight in Iraqi cities. Their nightmare is far from over under an equally punishing and oppressive US military occupation of Iraq. 

All this litany of woes, suffering and misery came to the fore in the splendid isolation of affluence in Winnipeg, Canada, in August. Parvin Shere, a woman of Indo-Pakistani provenance, launched a two-CD pack, which she has christened as Kirchiyan - shards or fragments of a grated, haunted and obsessed heart. It contains a number of her poems focused on the suffering of humanity at large and of the Iraqi children in particular. She has rendered in lilting melody, in her own voice, many of those poems. The background music is hers too. Ahmed Faraz, Amjad Islam Amjad and this scribe, in his right as a poet, have provided an insight into Parvin's poetic propensities and her vision of a humanist. The CDs are dedicated to the children of Iraq. 

Parvin has been living for 30 years in somnolent Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the lap of Canada's prairie land. She looks like any other housewife whose hands are always full with chores of life's daily grind. She has raised three children and has a doting husband, a Mathematics professor, Waris Shere. There is, outwardly, nothing in her that should entangle itself with the tragedy of Iraq and the penury of its oppressed people. 

But Parvin Shere is not an ordinary woman. She is an artist of many dimensions and a very accomplished person. A versatile painter who mostly paints nature and whose works are on permanent display in the provincial Art Gallery of Manitoba, Parvin has carved a niche for herself in the art circles other adopted province. But Parvin is more than just a painter. She plays several musical instruments with effortless ease, writes short stories and composes poetry in two languages. She is a well-rounded artiste who has the heart of a poet, the eyes of a painter and the hands of a musician, to quote Ahmad Faraz. These are but rare qualities, especially amongst women from our part of the world. 

Parvin's sensitive soul was touched deeply by the suffering she saw on the streets of South Asia during her regular visits home. Modem technology and cyber highways brought her face to face with the nightmare of suffering in Iraq, particularly that of its emaciated children. The unremitting spectre of wholesale death and destruction wrought on the hapless children of Iraq grated her soul and lanced the sensitive heart of the artiste in her. She cried out in agony: 

Why Have death's long shadows blanketed
Dreamless cities with their bleak and gloomy facades;
Why must the heaven behave like a mute and silenced witness?
Will man's galling mendacity
Remain forever his only legacy?

But Parvin refused to become just another bleeding heart. She decided to put her money, literally, where her mouth, or heart, was. She resolved to take her own one-woman battle to the heart of the issue that left her haunted and restless. She took a conscious decision to do something truly constructive and tangible for the unheard victims of a rapacious power's imperial lust. 

All the sale proceeds of the CDs will be donated for the welfare of Iraqi children through UNICEF. At the launch of Kirchiyan the Iraqi sufferings came alive as speakers described the situation there. Since I had been Pakistan's Ambassador based in Baghdad in 1996-99 and had been witness to the sufferings of the Iraqis, I was invited to speak. Evelyn Guindon, Excutive Director of UNICEF for the Prairie Region of Canada, and Dr. John J. Stapleton, Rector of St John's College of the University of Manitoba were the other speakers. The launch sufficiently inspired the audience to rise to me occasion and buy more than a hundred sets of Kirchiyan on the spot. 

Parvin's initiative proves the point that with grit and determination even the weak can challenge the gods of wrath and expose their mendacity in all its maddening dimensions. The voiceless Iraqi children have a champion of their rights in her. 

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