Osman Chaudhry, age 18, is Bard College Berlin’s youngest published author. His first book “Wisdom Salad” (named after his band) is currently available in Pakistan, as well as in the Bard College Berlin library.
In the form of poems and brief commentaries, this book is a thematic mixture of religion, death, love, hate… you name it!
“I was young and idealistic,” Osman says, “so I decided to solve the problems of the world,” he smiles to himself. I smile too, why stop being young and idealistic?
Osman says he’d always been inclined to find faults within society and the belief system towards which it is inclined. He was greatly influenced by Sufism, though he was not brought up in its teachings. Paradoxically, Sufism is not at all about finding faults within society but within oneself. “But the reason why you’re supposed to find faults within yourself is because you’re a product of society,” he says. “So, implicitly, Sufism holds that one can find faults within society, but should work on these at a very personal, reserved level so people are not conscious of this.” It is something to do with refining your spirituality to the best of your abilities and, importantly, not setting too much store by ritual alone or the way in which other people might exercise their faith.
His first encounter with Sufism was via the poetry that is sung in the local Sufi tradition and which he calls “simple, but powerful.” He gives me an example of a poem by Bulleh Shah that first influenced him to look into Sufism. “It was on a T.V. show called Coke Studio,” Osman explains.
Raati jaagein karein ibaadat
You keep awake at night and consider yourself pious
Tey raati jagan tethon uttay
But (Bulleya) even dogs stay awake the whole night
Dar maalik da mool na chadhday, bhaawein sau sau painde juttay tethon uttay
These dogs would not abandon the posts at their master’s abode even if battered with shoes
Chal way mian Bulleya, chal yaar mana lay
Bulleh Shah, let us devote ourselves and appease Him
Nahin tay baazi lay gaye kuttay, tethon uttay
Otherwise the dogs steal the game
Hearing these lines, Osman interpreted them as suggesting that one should be loyal to what one thinks is good—as a servant to his master. It is also a statement against faith as ritualistic dogma devoid of love or compassion.
Osman’s loyalty to what he believes is good is reflected in his writing. His recently published book, Wisdom Salad, contains texts he’d written since late 2011. Among them is Baby Steps:
“I have trouble walking these days. It is all unsteady, sort of uncertain. At least I’m saving up what might have been spent on alcohol. Maybe I’m simply taking breaths way too deep. Maybe it’s all this philosophy I have to read. Struck by, and stuck with questions I earlier didn’t quite have the words to form. Flourish. Lose ground. Make strides along quicksand. Sometimes just another day can be full of doubts about the time at hand. Flourish. Lose ground. Make strides (along quicksand).”
This text is on education and the quicksand that today’s education is. “A lot of education is about external systems,” he tells from personal experience. For, since the age of ten, Osman studied to become a doctor. It was at 16 years of age that Osman drastically changed his mind (and course of study.) “I became more cynical and unhappy with the general state of things… with the system of education, the shaky state of Pakistan…you don’t really have the choice to escape politics, even when you’re a kid.” Recalling the past, Osman tells me of a boy he knew from his old school who was killed at age 10 for being a Shiite. “He was just a kid.”
Today, Osman is his own editor and attributes proofreading to two of his Pakistani high school friends. Though he has no writing mentor, Osman is grateful to his high school teacher of Economics whose lessons encompassed themes beyond his subject. “He cared for and talked to us about intolerance… about things that have nothing to do with economics because young people are vulnerable… and they are also the future.”
Osman’s second book is in its final stages. He also plans to publish a third book specifically on Pakistan’s current socio-political situation. His main areas of focus will include religion, education as well as the role of religion in politics.
Something tells me youthful idealism will stick around for a while. That’s not so bad considering that this idealism is—more often than not—the opposite of resignation.