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LETTERS TO ZAHIR ANWAR…

 

 
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 creative thoughts.
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 philosophical journey.
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.
Your alter-ego,
Sohail










LETTER TO ZAHIR…

PROFESSIONAL WRITINGS AND EXPERIENCES

Dear Zahir!
Your letters are fascinating like your personality
They have
Innocence of children
enthusiasm of the young
and
wisdom of the elderly
They reflect
sincerity of your heart
creativity of your mind
and
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.
Zahir!
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.
Zahir!
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.
Zahir!
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 love”
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 Asian too.
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 again.
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.
Zahir!
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 admiration
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.
Zahir!
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 creatively.
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 website
www.Greenzoneliving.ca
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 inspire others.
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
And
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
…Guerrilla Warriors
…Creative People
…Mystics
…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 2004





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,,, www.drsohail.com
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.


Dear Zahir,
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
Affectionately,
Sohail
LETTER TO ZAHIR…AUG 2006
Dear Zahir,
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 website www.drsohail.com
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, 2001
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 other.
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 www.chowk.com
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…
CREATIVE FRIENDSHIPS
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 SHAIR.
Your alter-ego,
Sohail
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. Affectionately, Sohail
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 tourists.
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
Dear Zahir,
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 ethics….affectionately sohail



AT THE AIRPORT….MAR 17TH, 2007
Dear Zahir,
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.
Affectionately, sohail


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 mails.
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 apna such
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 discussions.
Please share with me your new creative projects.
Affectionately,
Khalid Sohail
Nov 1st, 2008


 

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