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CREATING A PEACEFUL WORLD TOGETHER

DR KHALID SOHAIL INTERVIEWED BY SYED AZEEM

 

AZEEM: When did you leave Pakistan? When did you come to Canada and for how long you have been living in Toronto?

SOHAIL: I graduated from Khyber Medical College Peshawar Pakistan in 1974. After one year of internship in Medicine, Gynecology and Obstetrics, I went to Iran. I stayed in Tehran for a few months and then moved to Hamadan for a year. I used to work in a Children’s Hospital that was located just opposite to the tomb of famous physician philosopher Avicenna. During that year I applied to different universities all over the world to do my residency in psychiatry. I was accepted in Ireland, New Zealand and Newfoundland, Canada. I chose Canada and did my four year residency training in psychiatry from 1977 to 1981. After receiving my Fellowship in psychiatry in 1982 and working for two years in New Brunswick, I moved to Ontario in 1984. I worked in Whitby Psychiatric Hospital for 10 years and then started my own Creative Psychotherapy Clinic. I have been working there since 1995.

AZEEM: You are a prolific writer. You have published nearly twenty books in Urdu and English in the last couple of decades. What is the secret of your prolific writing?

SOHAIL: There are many factors that are significant. One factor is that I have lived alone for the last two decades. I have not carried the responsibilities of a traditional family on my shoulders. Many poets, writers and artists that I know spend a lot of time and energy looking after their children. After fulfilling those responsibilities they feel tired and exhausted and have hard time creating. It is very difficult for them to balance their personal, professional and creative lives.

          Over the years I have discovered a few things about my creative process. I am most creative in the mornings. So I have dedicated my Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday mornings for my creative work. On Mondays and Tuesdays I start my clinic after lunch.

          A few years ago I wrote an article titled From Creative Rain To Creative Spring. In that article I shared the dynamics of my creative journey. There was a time I used to have creative rain and I would write a poem, a story or an essay and then there would be dry period for months. Over the years that rain has transformed into a spring that flows in the depths of my being and now I write on a regular basis. When I am not doing some original writing I translate world literature in Urdu. Such translations help me in maintaining my creative mood. I also have regular meetings with my creative friends on Sunday afternoons and discuss creative ideas and writings. Those discussions are quite inspiring and creativogenic. We add those writings on my website www.drsohail.com so that other creative friends who live in other parts of the world can read them too. I also contribute regularly to Urdu magazines in Pakistan and India and English magazines on internet. Those publications keep me connected with the creative community all over the world. Internet is such a wonderful medium.

The last thing that I want to mention that helps my creativity is taking a week off after working a few weeks in my clinic and going to an island, the land of sun, sea and sand with my books and papers and finishing my unfinished creative projects. All these factors have helped me nurture my creativity. I have developed an affectionate relationship with my muse. She is very kind to me and brings me creative gifts quite frequently. Most artists and writers that I know ignore their creativity. Creativity is a special gift that needs to be taken seriously and nurtured.

AZEEM: Do you see literature a source of entertainment or a vehicle to share one’s philosophy of life?

SOHAIL: Some writers like to entertain and create recreational literature, while others like to enlighten and create serious literature sharing their insights in life. Literature, that I respect the most, is wisdom literature. Some of the folktales and mystic poetry are part of such wisdom literature.

          In my opinion all writers are in search of their truth. After they discover their truth they like to share it with others in a creative way. Those writers who are successful in sharing their profound life experiences and insights in their writings become the representatives of their generation. They offer new forms of expression and new insights of human condition to humanity.

AZEEM: How are your creative writings different than the writings of your contemporaries?

SOHAIL: Most contemporary writers that I know primarily focus on the form, while my primary focus is on the theme. For me form is secondary. I express myself in many creative forms. I usually pick a theme for my book and then create many poems, essays, stories and translations on that theme. In that way I can collect my observations, experiences, readings and analysis in one book. If you see my books, you will find that the first one is about peace, the second one is about humanism, the third one is about women’s liberation and the fourth one is about struggle of blacks. In my creative writings alongside sharing my truth I also like to raise social consciousness of my readers and translating world literature in Urdu is one way of doing that.

AZEEM: You are not only a poet and a writer, you are also a psychotherapist. What is your concept of man?

SOHAIL: As a humanist I have great respect for humanity. I believe that every human child is like a seed that has a unique temperament and potential. For a seed to become a healthy tree and offer wonderful fruits, it needs fertile soil, fresh air, humidity and sunshine. Similarly for a child to become a peace loving healthy adult he needs love and nurturing and discipline. Those children that get all the needed nurturing they become successful scientists and artists and politicians and doctors and lawyers and serve their communities. On the other hand those children that are deprived of love or have to experience neglect and abuse, they turn into angry and violent adults. Modern psychology, medicine and literature are helping us find ways to evolve to become fully human individually and collectively. I dream of a world where all children will have opportunities to express their full potential.

AZEEM: Over the years you have interviewed many poets and philosophers, writers and artists? What inspires you to take those interviews?

SOHAIL: For me an interview is a creative expression. Socrates taught us that dialogue is one way of discovering truth. Freud shared that interviews can become part of the healing process. To find right answers in life we need the right questions. The bigger the philosopher the bigger question he asks. We need to teach our children to ask the right questions to learn and grow. In one hour of interviewing creative personalities I discover the essence of their life struggles and the lessons they have learnt in life. A lot of people come to my website to read those interviews.

AZEEM: Many immigrant writers have written about the struggles of living in a foreign land. How do you see an immigrant experience?

SOHAIL:  When immigrant writers move from one culture to another they are able to experience two languages, two literatures and two lifestyles in two communities. Experiencing two cultures can open their inner third eye and they can create literature that can become a metaphor of our contemporary world. As far as my personal life is concerned I had more smiles than tears in this journey. By coming to Canada I had so many wonderful and inspiring experiences that broadened my existential horizons. My world view grew and I became a better writer, a better therapist and a better human being.  Urdu writers are preoccupied with nostalgia. Many of them are physically living in the West but emotionally living in the East. We are living in a global village and immigrant writers can express the angst of living in a global village.

AZEEM: Do you consider yourself a socialist?

SOHAIL: I have been inspired by the philosophies of socialism, democracy and humanism. One of the reasons I chose to live in Canada than America was her free health care system. When my patients come to see me they do not have to pay me. Our government pays for their care. In America there have been millions of citizens who have no adequate health care services and if they do not have health insurance they cannot be admitted to the hospital. I think state should provide housing, education and health care to all citizens. I do not mind paying high taxes to the government so that she provides such services to the needy. I consider that a part of social responsibility. I like to share that responsibility and serve my community as a therapist.

AZEEM: There has been a wave of fundamentalism all over the world and America has been reacting strongly to it. What are your views about this issue?

SOHAIL: When human beings start feeling insecure they regress and become extremists. Fundamentalism is a psychological reaction to world wide anxieties and insecurities. Karen Armstrong in her writings shared the view that in the 20th century there were three waves of fundamentalism. The first one was Christian fundamentalism, the second Jewish fundamentalism and the third Muslim fundamentalism, and each one was more extreme than the previous one. Even the Hindu communities in India are affected by Hindu fundamentalism. When religious fundamentalism became militant it became violent and thousands of innocent men, women and children were killed in the name of God and religion.

          In my opinion democratic and humanistic values prosper in those communities where:

…the gap between different classes is reduced

…literacy rate is raised

…people develop social consciousness

and

…masses become ready to fight for their human rights.

It is very naïve for American politicians to think that by having elections in many countries they will pave the way for democracy. Democracy is far more complex than elections. Until the social, economic, literacy and human rights issues are not resolved, it will be hard for democracy to prosper. Even then their democracy has to rise from their own traditions. They may not accept a Western type democracy.

AZEEM: What are your views about peace?

SOHAIL: In my opinion inner and outer, emotional and social, psychological and political peace are interconnected. It is hard for those people to bring peace who are full of anger, resentment and bitterness. I read an article in Toronto Star in which the writer analyzed people involved in different movements. His analysis was that of all the people involved in political movements only 20% were pro and 80% were against. In the struggle of women more women were against men and less in favor of women. Similarly in the struggle of blacks majority were fighting against whites and minority were struggling in favor of blacks. In one interview Mother Teresa had said that she will join a pro peace rally but not an antiwar rally.

          I consider war an expression of collective anger and hostility. In my opinion peace is more than absence of war. Peace is a positive, constructive and progressive way of living. In cold war there was no war but there was no peace either. Peace comes into existence when both parties are willing to live in harmony and resolve their conflicts respectfully and gracefully.

          I believe world peace is intimately connected with justice. As far as poor countries are exploited by rich countries and there is no justice in the international courts we will not see lasting peace in the world. I am totally against veto power of five countries in United Nations. All nations of the world need to have power in United Nations. United Nations need to declare our planet a nuclear weapon free zone for global peace. No nation need to have army and nuclear weapons. Only United Nations need to have peace force to police the whole world and that peace force be prepared from representatives of all nations in the world. How can we have peace in the world when we are living in the era of war economy and rich nations are thriving by selling weapons to poor countries?

AZEEM: What do you see the future of the world?

SOHAIL: I believe in human evolution. In my opinion humanity is at a crossroads. We have two choices. We can commit collective suicide and kill millions of people with modern nuclear weapons or we can grow to the next stage of human evolution and learn to live peacefully with each other. We need to rise above the tribal mentality in which human beings are at war with other human beings based on different classes, races, languages, religions and nationalities. We need leaders who will promote peace consciousness rather than violent consciousness. We need to find peace

…within ourselves

…with other humans

and

…with nature.

To create a peaceful world together we need to learn that we are all members of the same tribe, the same family, the human family and our enemies are our distant cousins.