LETTERS TO ZAHIR ANWAR…
A MAN OF LETTERS
VISITING MY FAMILY OF THE HEART IN EUROPE
My dear friend Zahir Anwer!
Today is my last day of my two weeks of inspiring and exciting trip to Europe. I
wished you were traveling with me, the way we traveled in India and saw
wonderful places including Taj Mahal, not only to have intellectually
stimulating discussions, but also so that I could introduce you to my other dear
friends, my second family, my family of the heart.
For the last few days I am staying with Abrar Hasan just outside Paris. It is so
peaceful and inspiring being in this little town of Louvecienne which has a
special association with Anais Nin and Henry Miller. I remember how passionate
discussions we had about Nin’s diaries a few years ago. I still believe those
diaries are wonderful pieces of literature with profound insights in human
relationships. Abrar goes to his office during the day and I spend a lot of time
with myself. I read and write and contemplate and introspect. I am gradually
realizing how valuable it is for us as writers to spend time with ourselves, so
that we can integrate or experiences and observations in the depths of our souls
and create literature. In the evening Abrar and I go for long drives and walks
and have a creative dialogue during dinner. I am also becoming aware how
important our artist friends are for our intellectual growth. I wish you could
meet Abrar one of these days. He is a multi-talented and multi-faceted man.
Professionally he is a well-respected economist and is held in high esteem by
French and Canadian governments. Creatively he plays harmonium, sings ghazals
and writes wonderful philosophical poems. He is a great admirer of N.M. Rashid’s
poems and his courageous and outspoken personality. For the last few days we
have been walking on the streets of Paris and sitting in the cafes sipping tea
or coffee or wine discussing art and literature and life and love. One evening
we went to the café where Sartre and Simone used to go and discuss
existentialism and feminism and took some pictures. Paris feels so vibrant and
alive and creativo-genic even at midnight. I have fallen in love with Paris. I
can walk in this city aimlessly for hours, strolling by the riverside, getting
lost in the narrow streets and enjoy every moment of it. Those narrow streets
are mysterious and mystical. I wish I could speak French and talk to charming
French women. They seem so full of life. Once I asked Abrar what was the French
woman on the next table saying. He translated her comments in these words, ‘Men
and women are very different. Men want sex from women even if they have to offer
love and women want love even if they have to offer sex’ I wonder whether you
would agree with that French woman.
I told Abrar a lot about you. I shared with him that in my eyes you are the
Camus and Kafka and Sartre of the East, how much I value your ideas and how much
I feel proud of our friendship. Abrar told me that he had already read your
translations of French plays and wanted to meet you one day. I wish Abrar can
absorb some of your energy and enthusiasm and borrow some of your creative
sparks. Abrar gets so overwhelmed by his work and family responsibilities that
he does not have much energy left for his creative work.
During my trip to Europe I realized that some of the Eastern writers and artists
living in the West have become creative islands. They are neither part of
Eastern nor Western mainstream. They rarely have opportunities to discuss their
creative products with other artists. That has been one reason why I always try
to call them, write to them and visit them whenever I can so that their sparks
of creativity can turn into flames rather than ashes. Creativity is a great gift
of life. Most of us take it for granted and do no value it. Creativity is a
beloved that needs to be taken care of and appreciated on a regular basis. I
have met a few writers and artists and philosophers who did not water the
creative plant and finally it withered away. I value creative people as they are
our social conscience and torch bearers of humanity. I am developing a keen
interest in the biographies of creative men and women to understand the
mysteries of the relationship of creativity and insanity. While discussing that
subject yesterday Abrar and I discovered a common interest in the life and works
of Vincent Van Gogh, one of the most fascinating artists of all times, who could
creatively transform his pains into paintings. Abrar was kind enough take me to
the small village of Auvers-sur-Oise, similar to Louvecienne where Van Gogh
spent the last few weeks of his life. In that village he created 70 paintings in
70 days. Abrar and I visited that small room where Van Gogh died in the arms of
his brother after he shot himself. We had lunch in the restaurant he used to eat
and saw a short film about his paintings. I still remember a line from that
film, ‘It is very difficult to be simple’ a motto I tried to follow in my
writings all my life. We walked on the streets Van Gogh used to walk. We saw the
buildings that inspired him to paint. We saw that church which is immortalized
in his painting. It was amazing for me to find out that Van Gogh wanted to
become a minister before he chose to be an artist. Finally we saw that cemetery
where he is buried next to his brother Theo. They were so close to each other
all their lives that they seem like emotional and spiritual twins. Vincent wrote
hundreds of letters to his brother Theo. Theo was so attached to his brother
than he could not live more than a few months after his brother’s death. I was
lucky to find the collection of Vincent Van Gogh’s letters in his museum.
Dear Zahir! If you have not read Van Gogh’s letters, I would strongly suggest
you to read them. In those letters I feel that sadness and melancholy that I
sometimes find in your letters. You can touch that pain and sorrow that reside
in the depths of human soul. I am fascinated by those intellectuals who can give
birth to masterpieces from the womb of their painful experiences. Lucky are the
artists who can transform their breakdowns into breakthroughs.
After visiting Van Gogh’s grave Abrar took me to another small town called Rouen
where Joan of Arc was kept in jail and later on burnt alive at the age of 19.
Joan of Arc was condemned for sharing her spiritual experiences that was a
catalyst of a political revolution. It is amazing how religious institutions can
be heartless and punitive. She was persecuted for sharing her personal TRUTH.
Centuries later the church realized its mistake and apologized.
Dear Zahir! Whenever I go on these trips there is so much I see and experience
and learn and I get inspired and then create. Traveling has always stimulated my
This time before I went to France, I also visited Sweden, Norway, Denmark and
Germany and met my dear friends. In Sweden I met Sain Sucha who has published a
number of books already. It was exciting to see his poems and stories in Swedish
anthologies. He seemed to be well connected with the writers’ community in
Sweden. I also met my dear friend Ahmed Faqih. He is a wonderful poet but
unfortunately has socially withdrawn over the years. We had a passionate
dialogue about Secular Humanism.
In Denmark I met Nasar Malik, a well known journalist and Sohun Qadri, a well
respected artist, who took me to a special community called Christiana where
thousands of those men and women live who do not want to be part of the
mainstream society. In that town no Danish laws are implemented. All those
artists and writers and intellectuals live the way they want to live. They can
drink and smoke as much as they want. They can sell drugs. They can walk naked.
They can build their own houses. They can create whatever they wish. I am
fascinated to find out that Sohun Qadri was one of the pioneers of that
community in early seventies. He lived there for a few months. Even now many
people greeted him while we were walking on the streets.
In Germany I met Naeema and her husband Zia. It was unfortunate that Naeema who
is an excellent short story and travelogue writer had been sick for a while, Zia
and I had engaging discussion how the institution of religion stunts the growth
of critical thinking in people. I had never had such an open dialogue with him
before. I was impressed by his liberal attitude. Naeema felt bad that she could
not be part of our discussions. I am fascinated to see how my book From Islam to
Secular Humanism is encouraging people to verbalize their doubts about the
institution of religion and share their intellectual, spiritual and
In Norway I spent some time with Masood Munawar and his friends. He took me to
the annual meeting of Norwegian Rotary Club where he was the only Asian member.
They welcomed me with open arms and I learnt about Norwegian initiatives about
world peace movement. Masood Munawar, a prolific writer has suffered in his life
because of his ideas. At one time because of his political ideology and
criticism of army dictatorship in Pakistan he was persecuted and had to spend
some time in exile. Later on he was chosen as the prisoner of conscience by
Amnesty International and adopted by Norway. He has a great command of Punjabi,
Urdu, Persian, Arabic, English and Norwegian. I was pleasantly surprised when
another Pakistani political activist Khalid Salimi asked him to review my book
in Norwegian for his magazine.
In Norway I also felt sad because I missed our dear friend Saeed Anjum. Oslo
felt so incomplete, empty and barren without him. On his death I remembered what
Simone had said on her final separation from Sartre.
Your death separated us
My death will not bring us together
What a powerful statement about an atheist loving relationship! It is a sad
thought that all loving relationships are temporary. For the same reason they
are so precious and worthwhile.
Dear Zahir! I feel fortunate to have such dear friends who shower me with their
love and affection and respect. We bring out the best in each other, which in my
eyes is the final test of creative friendship. There were many times you were in
my thoughts. This letter is to acknowledge some of those moments.
I will look forward to your next letter as your letters are always
intellectually stimulating and inspiring. They are full of that spark that keeps
the candle of life and creativity burning.
LETTER TO ZAHIR…
PROFESSIONAL WRITINGS AND EXPERIENCES
Your letters are fascinating like your personality
Innocence of children
enthusiasm of the young
wisdom of the elderly
sincerity of your heart
creativity of your mind
integrity of your character
Your letters inspire me.
Your letters knock on those windows and doors of my heart that were never
knocked before and I get a desire and urge to share my thoughts, my feelings, my
emotions, my dreams, and even my nightmares with you. I think one day our
letters will tell the story of our friendship.
Your letters have sparks of a genius artist and a sincere friend
and proudly show them to others.
When you were visiting me in Canada, I did not get a chance to
talk to you about my professional life in detail. So I am taking
this opportunity today to share with you a few glimpses of that
aspect of my life.
In the last month I have been quite excited because I
finished my book on psychotherapy. It is named "Therapeutic
Encounters" (Growth Oriented Psychotherapy). My artist friend
Sean made a beautiful cover for it. I am proofreading the book. I
am hopeful it will finish in a few weeks and then the book will be
ready for publication. I feel very proud finishing that project.
Those 500 pages offer a genuine account of my various
experiences and philosophy about psychotherapy.
While I was in the final stages of my book, I was approached by Peter Cobrin a
Ph.D. student from University of Windsor, Canada. who was working in his Ph.D.
thesis on psychotherapy. He was interviewing therapists to discuss their
attitudes and their perception how psychotherapy effects society at large. He
interviewed me for a couple of hours. We titled the interview Building
Bridges…Breaking Down Walls. Now that I am proofreading and editing the
interview, I am realizing that those 20 pages of my interview summarize the
essence of my book and my philosophy of psychotherapy. When the interview is all
typed I will send you a copy for your impression and feedback. I am hopeful that
you will enjoy it.
I have also been working hard on my project on "Mixed marriages". I have
finished the literature review and the theoretical part and now I am focusing on
interviewing couples. I have already conducted two interviews and I am hoping to
record ten more interviews in the next few months. I am quite confident that it
will be an exciting and a thought provoking book on the subject That book will
help people in assessing and predicting their intimate relationships and their
increase their awareness about ethnic, racial, linguistic, class and religious
issues and conflicts in their relationships. In that book I have tried to
achieve a creative synthesis of my conceptual and artistic thinking by putting
the poems, stories, essays, letters and interviews together. Although the
project is not complete yet, I am already quite excited and I am sharing my
excitement with you. The way a pregnant mother shares her excitement with her
friend when she can experience the movement of her baby in her body. Those
movements are a proof that the baby is alive and kicking. Similarly 250 pages of
my book "Mixed marriages" reflect that my new baby will be delivered in a few
months. I always believed that creating books were like creating babies. In
spite of pains and excitements, frustrations and ecstasies like mothers who have
given birth to many babies, I can say “it is all worth it”. Creating live babies
and books are the best experiences human beings can have.
While I am talking about my professional writings, I also want to share some of
my professional experiences - The experiences that become raw material for my
creative work and opportunity for my personal growth. They make me think and
ponder over these aspects of human conditions that I would not have thought
about otherwise. Let me share with you these encounters of my last day at work,
last week before I went on holidays. These experiences will give you a glimpse
of my professional work and the issues I deal with at work.
The first patient I saw that day was a young working class man in his 30’s who
was married for 13 years and was a father of 2 children. In the last few months
he was suspecting his wife was having an affair. But whenever the confronted
her, she denied it. Finally he tapped the phone and recorded her calls. He
obtained the proof that she was exchanging “love messages” with one of her
colleagues. After having the proof he confronted her and told her frankly
“either stop fooling around with him or tell me that it is over between us that
can pack up my bags and leave” The day I saw him his wife was going to talk to
talk to her “friend” and end that relationship. She told her husband that
although she was seeing that man for a few months, she had never slept with him.
He told me he believed her because in one of the recorded messages, her friend
had said, “we have been seeing each other for months but we still have not made
He came to see me and David (my social worker colleague) to help him in his
marital crisis. One of the things that concerned us was that he had hunting guns
in his basement. I requested him to get rid of these guns. He agreed. We did not
want him to do anything with the guns that he would regret later.
We also found out that he and his wife had come to our emergency department
three weeks ago and met another psychotherapist. That doctor felt concerned
about his safety that he admitted him to the hospital against his wishes. When
his wife found that out she started screaming, yelling and threatening the
doctor. Police was called and she was put in jail overnight. It was tragic that
within an hour of their arrival to the hospital, the husband was in mental
hospital and the wife in jail - and after three weeks he was back with us. We
were expected that only to keep them in their marital crisis, but also deal with
bitter experience with our hospital 3 weeks ago. Coincidentally that doctor was
The same afternoon I got a letter from the administrator of our hospital
inquiring whether my patient who was due for his annual review needed and
interpreter. That patient was diagnosed as having cancer of larynx and was using
electronic voice box to communicate.
That patient had killed his mother five years ago but rather than going to jail
he was sent to a psychiatric hospital for treatment because he was considered
“not guilty by the reason of insanity”. He suffered from schizophrenia.
Interestingly enough the property was left behind by his mother was worth half a
million dollars and was equally divided among two sons. My patient got quarter
of a million dollars. He would not have received a penny if he was convicted and
gone to jail. Although my patient stayed in the hospital for 5 years he spent
all his money. On investigation I found out that he gave most of it away to his
brother who spent/lost/gambled it away. Not that my patient was penniless he
went to social services to get some social assistance.
When I asked him "Why did you give all your money to your brother?” he said "I
killed his mother".
"Do you feel guilty and do you think you have to keep your brother happy at any
cost?" I asked
"Yes, I do" he answered.
Social services department was in a dilemma.
The workers want to make him feel responsible and accountable for spending,
wasting or loosing quarter of a million dollars in 5 years but also don't want
to be too harsh to a man who suffers from schizophrenia and cancer.
What a dilemma?
I am supposed to prepare my report next month and make recommendations.
While I was about to leave that day at 4:30 pm for my holidays, my secretary
gave me a message. One of my patients, a 74 year old artist, who was in a
general hospital for a few weeks, had left a message for me that she was
diagnosed as having terminal cancer of liver and she had only a few days to
live. If I would have left for my 2 week vacation, I might have never seen her
That 74 year old artist always complained that her family and boyfriend who was
also an artist did not care enough. They believed she was "attention seeking". I
felt very compassionate towards her when I saw her in the hospital bed that
afternoon. She looked so pale I would not even recognize her.
She was pleased to see me. She held my arm and said affectionately “Dr. Sohail!
I am glad you came to see me. My family and friends are looking after me. It is
ironic that I had to be in my death bed before they could say they loved me."
I was quiet but I had tears in my eyes.
The lady was a genuine artist and a source of inspiration for me. I had even
invited her for a television program for public education. She had appeared in
my stories in different ways, in different places. I will never forget her. She
was smiling even when she was dying.
Next time when I see you I will show you the portrait she had made of me. We had
a special relationship. The relationship that was of mutual respect and
I am sharing with you my professional experiences because they play a
significant role in some of my creative experiences. I have tried to integrate
my profession with my art. I have tried to build bridges between human
psychology fiction and poetry. Many of my stories like would not have been
created if I was not a doctor and a psychotherapist and many of my professional
ways like? Struggle (Psychotherapy with women) would not have been possible if I
was not a poet and fiction writer. My profession and art are closer than they
appear on the surface.
I believe that individuals are in - dividuals and cannot be divided into
different compartments of psychology, sociology, politics, art etc or divide
literature into poetry, fiction, drama, novel, biography, etc. They are
convenient methods for critics and academicians to discuss but human life and
literature is more complex and integrated than that. Though scientific thinking
is analytical and helps us explain and understand many things but the essence of
human condition is multi-dimensional, mysterious and mystical and we need to
find ways to integrate different aspects of life.
I am sharing these thoughts and feelings with you because I believe that you
would know what I am thinking about.
For me any profession is very important and I use my professional experiences
These days I am on holidays for two weeks traveling in the Eastern Provinces
(Maritime Provinces) of Canada. Last night I stayed in a peaceful Motel in
Prince Edward Island. The whole Island is very peaceful and tranquil. A lot of
form land, untouched by the western technology. There are no skyscrapers, no
busy traffic and no noise of ambulances and aero-planes. It is an ideal place
for introspection, meditation and writing letters. And you happen to be the
special friend recipient of that letter.
Affectionately, Sohail July 94
HIGHLIGHTS OF 2003
My dear alter-ego, dear Zahir Anwar,
I received your New Year’s card yesterday. Although it consists of a few lines
yet each word is filled with your sincerity and affection. Your card is a
testimony that in spite of thousands of miles of geographical distance between
us, we have managed to maintain a special connection. That special connection
inspired you to write “…And yet I had never been away from your memories. I do
remember you fondly---always in search of you…with warm wishes…Zahir Anwar” I
can easily say ‘feelings are mutual.’ We are both in search of each other, as we
see ourselves in each other from an existential and creative point of view and
this is why we call each other our alter-ego. Such connections are very rare to
happen. That is why I wish we lived in the same city so that we could meet in
the evenings to go to a café for a cup of tea or to a bar to have a drink or
meet in the living room so that we could have intellectually stimulating
discussions and give each other honest feedback about our writings and inspire
each other in creating some eternal lines.
Since your New Year’s card inspired me to write this letter, I would like to
share with you some of the highlights of 2003.
In 2003 I finished the first draft of my book Prophets of violence and peace,
nearly 300 pages. In that book I have reviewed the biographies and philosophies
of reformers and revolutionaries of 20th century. Reviewing those biographies
was an exciting as well as a disturbing experience for me. It helped me peep
into the psyche of those leaders who promoted peace and also in the hearts of
those who embraced violence to bring peace in their communities. Some succeeded
more than others.
I have now given my manuscript to six friends, two Indian, two Pakistani and two
Canadian to get their honest feedback before I finalize my manuscript.
I also made a copy of the manuscript for my publisher Bill Belfontaine. He has
shown a lot of excitement about the project and a special interest in the book.
I am looking forward to their feedback.
In 2003 Bill Belfontaine and his White Knight Publishing Company published my
second book of Green Zone Series, The Art Of Loving in Your Green Zone. He has
also accepted two more manuscripts for this year
The Art of Working in your Green Zone
Love, Sex and Marriage
Both of those books are written by me and Bette Davis. The second book is
written in the form of letters between us.
In 2003 Bette has also moved from Newfoundland to Ontario and is now living in
Penthouse Number 3 with her daughter Adriana, on the same floor as I do. Since I
live in Penthouse Number 6, she is my neighbor. These days I joke around with
her and say that I have become a Christian temporarily so that I can act on
Christian tradition of love thy neighbor. Bette being brought up in a Catholic
family chuckles about my comments.
Having Bette and Adriana in my life is a wonderful experience. They provide me
with a feeling of family life.
In 2003 my interest and passion for my Green Zone has increased. As an artist I
feel that Green Zone is one significant concept, philosophy and lifestyle that I
have created. It is a philosophy of healthy, happy and peaceful living. It is a
philosophy that I practice in my own personal, professional and social lives and
also share with my clients and friends. Bette Davis has now created a new
so that people can read about the philosophy and tell their Green Zone Stories
sharing how Green Zone Philosophy changed their lives hoping that it would
In 2003 my family of friends, my family of the heart has also grown. When we
started three years ago we only had ten members and last night we had nearly
hundred people who came to have dinner and listen to poetry and music. There are
many others all over the world who read our articles and proceedings of the
meetings on internet. In our family of the heart there are two groups
A, one group likes poetry, fiction and music. They want to be entertained.
B, second group wants to have serious philosophical and ideological discussions.
We are trying to have meetings so that both groups enjoy coming to the meetings.
For the second group we arrange seminars. The next one would be in March 2004.
The topic would be
Women’s Liberation, Men and 21st Century. Presenters would focus on the
religious, cultural, social and personal dynamics of men / women relationships
of the contemporary world. The last seminar that was about Islam, Muslims and
21st century was great success.
One of the Canadian journalists Gabrielle Breur who could not attend the seminar
called me and interviewed me on the phone. She is writing an article titled
Secular Muslims for a prestigious Canadian magazine Saturday Night. She
interviewed me about my personal and professional observations and experiences.
One other Indian journalist Radhika, who is a member of the family of the heart,
asked me to talk to her colleague Ajwal Bhattacharya who is a poet and a
journalist in Germany. When he heard that in the family of the heart Muslims,
Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Atheists, all get together and have serious
discussions about their philosophies, similarities and differences in a sincere
and peaceful way, he wanted to have a program on his Hindi Service for German
radio. He asked Radhika to interview me and he recorded our interview for his
Hindi Program. It was an exciting experience for me. I felt that the secular
humanistic atmosphere that we are creating in Toronto is already inspiring other
intellectuals from different ethnic, religious and cultural communities.
All these developments are helping me in maintaining my Green Zone Lifestyle. I
feel very fortunate that after a long struggle I have been able to discover a
lifestyle not only in my books but also in my real life where I can live at
peace with myself and in harmony with others. I shared with my dear friend Rafiq
Sultan that in my mind the concept of an ideal person is the one who has
Mind of a scientist
Heart of a mystic
This is what I am trying to achieve in my life.
In 2003 my reviewing biographies of creative people, whether reformers or
revolutionaries and writing about my Green Zone Philosophy were all attempts to
express my creativity and then share it with others. I feel so fortunate that in
2003 I have met so many new people who make my life meaningful. I hope that
circle keeps on growing.
Dear Zahir, In 2004 I am planning to visit Pakistan in the last two weeks of
February. Is it possible for you to come to Lahore so that we can spend some
time together? If not I will try to maintain my contact through letters and keep
on sharing the milestones of my creative journey. You know very well that you
are one of the co-travelers.
Jan 10, 2004 Your alter-ego, Sohail
LETTER TO ZAHIR…HIGHLIGHTS OF 2004
My dear alter-ego,
The year is coming to close and as the New Year’s Eve is approaching, I am
thinking of the special card I received from you last year. Your cards and
letters are so important that I am making a special file at home to save our
correspondence as I cherish it a lot.
In the last year I had a few excitements and adventures.
The two books The Art of Working in Your Green Zone and Love, Sex and Marriage
that Bette and I wrote together are published and we would receive them from the
publisher any day. It would be a great gift for both of us on New Years. I was
joking with Bette and saying that she is having “twins” in the form of books.
She is quite thrilled as these would be her first books. It is exciting for me
to see her excitement. After publishing more than twenty books, the experience
is not the same for me but it is the first time that I am producing books as a
co-author with Bette and that is exciting. I wish you could meet her one of
these days. She is so kind and generous and wonderful. I feel so lucky to have
her in my life. She deserves a gold medal to put up with me…smile.
As far as the book Prophets of Violence…Prophets of Peace is concerned Bill
Belfontaine has accepted it for publishing it next year and my colleague and
friend Anne is editing it these days. Rafiq Sultan and other friends are also
helping me translate it in Urdu. More than half of it is already translated. I
am hoping we would be able to finish it in a few months for it to be published
in Urdu next year.
I have also written two more books about Green Zone Philosophy:
Creating Green Zone Schools, with the help of Bette
My Green Zone Story…as an autobiography from Green Zone perspective.
I feel Green Zone philosophy is like a musical instrument that helps people to
make their lives more creative, enjoyable and meaningful and my auto-biography
is to show how I play that instrument myself to live in my peaceful Green Zone.
I enjoyed creating both books this year.
In the last year I also had a keen interest in the psychology of
…Pseudo=mystics, the cult leaders like Guru Rajneesh
as I explore the mysterious relationship between creativity, insanity, sexuality
and spirituality and criminality as a writer as well as a psychotherapist. I am
exploring the lives of mystics and pseudo-mystics from a psychological and
secular and humanistic point of view and not from a religious and theological
perspective. I am planning to explore those interests in the next year. It seems
as if my interest in growing is human psychology and philosophy and biographies
of great and women of 20th century. I wish you could be here and we could
discuss those issues face to face and I could benefit from your knowledge,
experience and wisdom.
I am curious to know how you are feeling and doing. Are your creative juices
flowing these days?
In the last few months I have also written a short story about Iraq Crisis and a
series of poems. Asif Furrukhi in Pakistan is going to publish them next year in
his magazine dunyazaad. Wish you a wonderful 2005. Your alter-ego, Sohail Dec
LETTER TO ZAHIR ANWAR…NOV 2005…A MAN OF LETTERS
My dear alter-ego,
I received your affectionate letter yesterday. I felt sad reading that you had
not been well, felt reassured that you are recovering and felt honored that I
was the first friend you wrote. You words are full of passion, insights and
wisdom. Let them flow from your pen. You are so gifted and talented. Your mind
is a wonderful creative product of nature. Please do not stop sharing your
creative gifts with the world. They are gifts of love and peace to this violent
world. We need more writers and artists these days.
I shared your letter with my sweetheart Bette when we went on a date last night
for dinner. She was impressed. I told her that my previous girlfriend used to
get jealous when she read your letters. Bette said she understood the affection
and love we share as friends. She is not threatened or jealous. She appreciates
how two creative men can have a special connection that is not sexual. She
stated that she could also appreciate how other Canadian men and women who have
not witnessed the love between two dear male friends can misinterpret it. She
felt that I could not have such friendships with Canadian men as they are quite
homophobic and get nervous hugging other men. She realized how fortunate I am to
have you in my life as a source of inspiration. She was shocked to know that we
had hardly spent any time together. She expressed a desire to meet you one of
these days. I told her I have two alter-egos, female alter-ego is Bette Davis
and male alter-ego is Zahir Anwar. I feel doubly blessed.
I am sending you my latest book Prophets of Violence, Prophets of Peace. I am
very excited about the book. I have put a lot of time and energy in it. I hope
you like it. Please send me your comments and I will put them on my website,,,
I also finished my book From Breakdowns to Breakthroughs. In that book I have
explored the mysterious relationship between creativity, insanity, spirituality
and psychotherapy from a psychological point of view. Anne and Bette are editing
the book these days. It might take a few months before it is finalized.
There are some changes in my clinic. Anne is leaving me after 20 years and
moving to Kingston with her husband as they bought a house on Amherst Island.
Losing Anne will be sad but having Bette full time will be wonderful. It will
help us consolidate our relationship. It is quite a mysterious relationship as
we are friends and lovers and colleagues and co-authors and soul-mates. It is
the best relationship I had with any woman from a personal, psychological and
romantic point of view. She is so much full of love and laughter. Like you I
also have a melancholic and serious streak in my personality. I am lucky as she
brings smiles to my life and dilutes my seriousness and balances my life.
I am also fortunate to have two new friends in my life Zahra and Askari Naqvi.
They are a young couple from Karachi, very bright, creative and sincere. Zahra
is an actress and has performed on stage in Pakistan. Askari is a IBM computer
research scientist and a musician. We have wonderful discussions. I introduced
them to Bette and she said, ‘They are the most wonderful couple I have ever
met.” What a compliment. It is rare for both partners to like both partners. It
is the climax of friendship. I am planning to do some creative projects with
Zahra regarding mental health and immigrants. Zahra is also helping me in
translating my essays. She did a wonderful job translating Mendala’s article in
Urdu. Tonight I am going to request her to translate a few essays on Depression.
The more I write letters, the more I enjoy them. I am going to exchange letters
with Askari about humourous writings of Mushtaq Ahmed Yusufi and other Urdu
humorous writers. I am also going to request Zahra if she would help me type all
the letters we shared from 1989 and put them on my website. Your letters are so
literary and so powerful that they are pieces of literature. I might title them
LETTERS TO MY ALTER-EGO… ZAHIR ANWAR,,,A MAN OF LETTERS
What do you think of that suggestion?
I want people to enjoy your letters the way they enjoyed Mirza Ghalib’s letters.
I still wish you had an email address so that we could write more frequently. I
am getting lazy in my old age (my heart feels young though) and do not write
snail mails very often. My email address is…
welcome @ drsohail.com
I will look forward to your letter and comments about my book. If you have time
please visit my website www.drsohail.com
LETTER TO ZAHIR…AUG 2006
Yesterday morning I had a nice surprise. Jawaid Danish called me and shared that
he had received the SHAIR magazine from India and found my picture on the front
page. I went to the mail-box and found my copy. At that point the first person I
wanted to call to share the good news was you. I tried your new number, given to
me by Danish, but I was not successful yesterday. I tried it again and was lucky
to find you on the phone. It is always exciting and wonderful to talk to you. If
I met a magician and he asked me for one wish, I would ask him to bring you to
Canada for one year so that we can live in the same city and I introduce you to
all of my new friends and have intellectually stimulating discussions.
These days we have regular informal meetings of DARVESHON KA DERA every Sunday.
Usually we meet at Rafiq Sultan’s house and share our poetry and stories and
essays and songs. Those meetings are quite inspiring. If you ever visit my
you will find those poems and stories and essays there.
I just finished my new books and I am in the process of editing and publishing
them. They are:
1. Freedom of Religion…Freedom from Religion. It is the continuation of the
dialogue that I had started in my previous book From Islam to Secular Humanism.
In this book I share the milestones of my philosophical journey since Sep 11th,
2. Khuda, Muzhab aur Humanism. This book is in Urdu and contains not the
interviews of free thinkers from the Muslim world but also translations of
philosophers from other religions.
3. Samandar aur Jazeeray. It is a selection of my Urdu poems.
When I called Irteza Karim in Delhi and asked him if he would be able to publish
those books in Delhi and distribute them, he said, “I will publish them on one
condition. If you would come to India and attend an international conference in
Lucknow.” I told him that I would love to come to India and bring my sweetheart
Bette Davis to meet my writer friends in India. Irteza promised that he would
send me an invitation so that I would be able to get the visa. Last time my
application was turned down when they saw on my Canadian passport that my place
of birth was Pakistan.
When I talked to you on the phone I was pleased to know that if we could not
come to Calcutta, that you would be able to come to Delhi or Lucknow to meet
Bette and I. I am confident that both of you would really enjoy meeting each
Dear Zahir, Life has been very kind and generous and I have no complaints. For
me to keep on creating and serving in my clinic and enjoying my life with my
dear friends and my sweetheart has been great. I feel blessed by life and feel
very lucky. I feel fortunate to have friends like you in my life.
I am so excited that you have a new email address and we might be able to
communicate through internet.
In the last few months I have been writing a regular column for a website
If you ever get a chance please visit.
There are many times I read your old letters. I think they are literary
masterpieces. You have such a command on Urdu as well as English. I am going to
discuss with Pervaiz if he would be able to put them on my website so that other
people can enjoy your letters as well. All the best, Your alter-ego, Sohail
August 15th, 2006
LETTER TO ZAHIR ANWAR…SEP 2006…
Dear Zahir Anwar, my alter-ego,
You are so far and yet so close.
You reside in Calcutta but I can feel your presence in Whitby.
Your memories from the last visit and your books that I received over the years
are spread all over my apartment, my darvesh’s hut.
I feel connected with you even when we do not write or talk for months.
I think we have a special friendship, a creative friendship. In my opinion of
all the human relationships, creative friendships are the best as they inspire
us and bring out the best in us.
I sometimes feel creative friendships are even better than romantic
relationships as they do not have to deal with romantic tensions, jealousies and
sexual conflicts. Romance adds something to the relationship but can also take
away something from the relationship. Creative friendships are pure. They have:
The innocence of the children
The enthusiasm of your people and
The wisdom of old folks
They are like folktales, entertaining and enlightening.
I cherish my creative friendship with you.
This week I wrote a poem in English titled LIFE AND DEATH and a short story in
Urdu titled MUQADDAS GUNAH . I am sending you both as attachments. I hope you
like them. Looking forward to your comments about the August, 2006 issue of
Sep 1st, 2006
LETTER TO ZAHIR…FRIENDSHIP…MAR 14TH, 2007
My dear alter-ego, dear Zahir Anwar,
As I am getting older, hopefully wiser, I am gradually realizing that of all the
human relationships, friendship has been the most precious for me. It is
sincere, honest and inspiring. My connection with you has been a constant source
of inspiration for me. I even tell my sweetheart Bette Davis that my primary
relationship with her is of friendship. I say ‘friendship is the cake and
romance the icing’. Bette and I had been friends for 25 years before we became
lovers 4 years ago. That is the longest fore-play I have known (smiles).
I feel lucky to have a creative friend like you and a romantic friend like her.
I hope one day both of you meet and see how talented both of you are….I think
both of you are idealists.
Bette and I are visiting Cuba these days to have some fun and enjoy a break from
work. I will write to you more to share my observations and experiences in Cuba.
AN EVENING IN CUBA…March 15TH, 2007
It is 10.30 pm and I am sitting in the balcony of Room 933 of Brisas Hotel in
Camaguay Cuba. I can see the stars that seem so close to the earth as if I can
extend my arm and touch them with my fingertips. The trees are rocking with the
cool breeze as if they are dancing in ecstasy. Temperature is perfect, neither
too hot nor too cold. I cannot believe that just three hours flight away is
Canada with –20C, so cold that if one is not fully dressed and protected, one
can die of frostbite. Does environmental temperature affect people’s
personality? I sometimes wonder.
As I reminisce about my visit to Cuba, I remember that when I chose to bring
Robert Fisk’s book The Great War of Civilization with me to read I had not
thought in my wildest imagination that when the immigration officer will open
the book, the first picture he would see will be of Osama bin Laden. Then he
will look at the passport and see Pakistan as my place of birth and Mohammad as
my first name and then stare at my brown face and grey beard wondering if I am
exporting terrorism. Since he did not speak English and I did not know Spanish
it was hard for me to explain that I was a peace-loving humanist. To prove my
point I showed him my book Freedom of Religion…Freedom from Religion and my card
of Creative Psychotherapy Clinic. He seemed impressed, let me go and shook
hands. The more I travel the more I realize that 9/11 tragedy has taken all the
fun out of air travel as so many people are surrounded by paranoia.
I am sitting here wondering if this would be my last rip to Cuba. I came here a
few times as I liked Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. I am not sure how long would
Castro live and what would happen to Cuba after his departure. I keep on reading
about Che Guevara who was a doctor and then became a guerrilla warrior and lead
the Cuban revolution with Fidel Castro. After the revolution Che even became a
minister. Last time when I came to visit Cuba I went to Santa Clara to see Che’s
Museum and a tall statue erected outside the museum. Che must be happy in his
grave knowing that South America is warming up to a socialist revolution and his
seeds are bringing fruits after a long time. Che and Castro were two brave
leaders who dared to challenge America while existing close to the superpower. I
find it amusing that one can see Canadian flags all over Cuba but no American
flag. Castro hates America with passion and does not trust Americans even as
I suggested to Bette Davis that next time we might go to Barbados for holidays
rather than coming to Cuba. Of all the islands I found Barbados the most
relaxing. Being a British Colony people speak English and one can communicate
with local people as compared to Cuba where local people speak Spanish.
Visiting Cuba has been very creatively productive as I have already written
three articles and now planning to translate a story in Urdu from Fisk’s book.
Bette is excited reading a book on human personality and developing some
insights. She even asked me to fill a questionnaire and concluded that she is an
Idealist and I am a Rationalist. I hope such realization will help our
communication and create more harmony between us. I think we have a wonderful
relationship better than most couples I know.
I find taking a week off after working for a few months quite relaxing and
inspiring. It provides me with an opportunity to plan new creative projects and
finish the ones I have already started. Presently I am working on two projects:
1. Becoming a Humanist….it will be a book with nearly dozen articles. Presently
I am working on the article God is a Metaphor . When I finish it I will send it
to the website www.chowk.com
2. Psychology of Suicide Bombers. My first article was published on
www.chowk.com and had more than 20,000 hits. I am reviewing more literature on
the subject. Affectionately sohail
SWIMMING AGAINST THE CURRENT…MAR 16TH, 2007
Trip to Cuba has been relaxing and exciting at the same time. I am enjoying the
company of my sweetheart, reading books and creating poems and essays. My mind
is tranquil like my heart…in a receptive peaceful mood to receive new creative
ideas. I think we cannot force creativity but can wait for novel ideas while
interacting with creative people directly through conversation or indirectly
through books. I am reading a French journalist’s book Wars of 21st century and
feel good that I am not the only one swimming against the current. There are so
many writers and artists who are critical of the present international state but
they are still in minority. It is a war of economics and not of
AT THE AIRPORT….MAR 17TH, 2007
Now I am sitting at the Camaguay airport waiting for my flight back to Toronto.
It the experience coming into Cuba was a painful uphill struggle, the experience
of leaving was like a cool breeze. The same immigration officer who had
interviewed me in detail at my arrival in Cuba and had shook hands with me after
an hour of interrogation when he found out that I was a writer and a doctor,
came over and shook hands again and introduced me to other officers as a writer.
In that moment it seemed that from a suspicious Pakistani Muslim terrorist he
tried to transform me into a Canadian psychiatrist and writer. I was amused by
the thought that our identities can change with every changing situation.
LETTER TO ZAHIR…NOV 2008.LOVE FROM A NEW HOME
My dear friend, my alter-ego,
While Bette and I were having a cup of tea this morning, I showed her your
email. When Bette read it, she was so over-whelmed, she had tears in her eyes.
Your letter read:
LOVE FROM THE SAME OLD CORNER
Dear Sohail, I have not forgotten you or even the light and shade and the street
lights burning bright in the wee hours of early dawn in your apartment. I only
know your apartment that was not made of mere concrete walls or technical
gadgets. I met a soul there, the soul lives with me as my soul-mate, as my
alter-ego. So what if I am late. I had never been away from you. May be my life
is deserted and I have broken dreams but I have a life of endless remembrance.
My end will not only be my loss but it will be your loss too. Time and again I
read your poetry and short stories and there I find more about myself than I
find your craft….
My wishes to you and all other friends. I am learning to write in this manner.
Yours forever, Zahir Anwar
Dear Zahir, your letters are always full of love and affection and I am always
touched not only by your creativity and sincerity but also your sadness. There
is a melancholic touch of an artist to them.
I am so glad you found a gmail address and you will be able to write me emails
more often. I am so used to sending emails that it is rare for me to send snail
You mentioned my old apartment in your letter. After living there for 25 years I
recently moved to a new home and this is my first letter to you from my new home
where I am living with my sweetheart Bette Davis, her daughter Adriana and my
niece Wardah. Three ladies live on the third floor and I have created a
Darvesh’s hut on the first floor with my bed on the floor and my books all
around. It is very peaceful. It will be my new creative labour room. It is from
this labour room that I am writing my first letter to you on my laptop.
Dear Zahir, Life is becoming very exciting and adventurous. I am getting
involved in new creative projects and books.
My niece is typing my auto-biography in Urdu. It is nearly 400 pages titled…apna
I am going to have a meeting with Tayie Abdul Raheem, an Egyptian produced who
has a TV station on internet soultv.org. He produced two short documentaries on
Green Zone Living after interviewing me and Bette and now wants to do more. I
feel excited about it.
I am writing a series of essays for the website www.chowk.com and making new
friends because of those essays.
My dear friend Syed Azeem sent my new book
Samaji Tabdeeli…irteqa ya inqelab for publication to Pakistan by the publisher
Dar-us-shaoor. I am hoping it would be ready in a few weeks.
We are going to have a Darveshon ka Dera meeting tomorrow in which Syed Azeem
and Shabab Naqvi will read his creations and I will share my new article titled
Psyche of Al-Qaeda
I find the feedback from my friends very helpful. If you lived in Toronto you
would have enriched our meetings with your intellectually stimulating
Please share with me your new creative projects.
Nov 1st, 2008