A Letter to My Son, Chris

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My friend Robi Paul Richard

Recently, you told me about a new lady who joined your laboratory and how, being from India, she is familiar with the works of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. This triggered a memory in me, a recollection in connection with my best childhood friend, Robi Paul Richard.

My mother befriended Robi’s grandparents, Fritz and Frida Richard, when they were actors performing in the play “Jedermann” by Hugo von Hofmannsthal in the annual Salzburg Festival and bought a house in the neighbourhood. It must have been after the war, probably in 1946, that I visited them with my mother, but years before, the Richards were affiliated with a theater in Berlin with the director Max Reinhardt. In the late 1920s, Reinhardt staged a production of Tagore’s “The Post Office”, in which Trude Richard, the youngest daughter, played a leading role. Tagore himself came to see his play.02

I must imagine that in the magical aura of the play itself, and with the allure of the exotic Tagore and his entourage of Indian men, Trude became enchanted and, hence, romantically involved. In 1927, she gave birth to an obviously Indian boy. One of Tagore’s traveling companions came forward to claim responsibility for siring the boy, and Tagore (then aged 65) agreed to be the boy’s godfather. As you have probably guessed, the boy was named Robi Richard.

It occurred to me only today that Tagore’s name in the Bengali pronunciation is “Robindronat”. Perhaps, as a child, he was also given the affectionate diminutive of “Robi”! Hmmm.

When Robi Richard immigrated to the USA, he changed his Hindu name to “Paul”. Nevertheless, when he arrived in the States, he was listed on the roster as “coloured”. Trude, who could not live without her son, followed him to New York within the year. Then Robi, along with an old classmate from Vienna, Ivan Illich, enticed me to come to America, as well. Because it would have meant a wait of seven years for me to obtain a US immigration visa, my friends suggested that I make the passage to Canada instead. I agreed, and after pawning his valuable microscope, Robi advanced the necessary funds for me to do so and I arrived in Montreal with you and your mother in 1953.

Years later, Robi suffered a brain tumor and passed away. His mother, Trude, had already been cremated for some time. Robi’s wife called me to come to New York to collect Trude’s ashes, (along with the ashes of her cat), saying that the alternative was for them to be flushed down the toilet. Your mother and I drove down, picked up the ashes, then years later deposited them, according to Trude’s wishes, in her parents’ grave in the cemetery in Aigen, a suburb of Salzburg. You, Chris, faced a similar task with your mother’s ashes, and will face it again when my time comes.

There are so many examples I can think of in my life that prove to me that all is a matter of destiny. Nothing happens naturally or by chance. Everything that happens, happens through some guiding, spiritual cause and effect. I would now advise anyone to become mindful of the spiritual intervention around us and treat it with reverence, as I have learned to do. Particularly, I have come to learn that women have been undervalued, have not been recognized as the most vital part of humanity, and it will only be through them that an advancement to a universal peace will be possible, an advancement which male dominance has failed to achieve since time immemorial.

Your Dad

Rabindranath-Tagore-thoughts

The Holy Qur’an, A Birthday Gift

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For my 90th birthday, my wish was to acquire an English, large print edition of the Qur’an. I wanted to finally read it in its entirety as I felt this would enable me to make a more educated contribution to the necessary and imminent reformation of Islam, a reformation that will eliminate the hostile interpretation of this holy book that has resulted in sanctions of barbaric behaviours and discrimination against women.

I have only just read the introductory chapters, “How to Approach the Qur’an”, followed by “A Brief Look at the Life of Muhammad”, an historical account of the prophet’s activities. The latter chapter ends with the story of Barakah, Muhammad’s nursemaid who, by then over seventy years old, visited his grave every day to cry softly. Once asked why, she replied, “By God, I knew that the Messenger of God would die, but I cry now because the revelation from on high has come to an end for us.”

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Painting of Mohammad

And how right she was. What a mess the Muslims have made of the “revelation”, twisting it into various misrepresentations of radicalism and hatred. These days, the two primary Muslim sects are on a constant war path. The Saudi Arabian Sunnis have enraged the Iranians with their execution of the Shiite cleric, Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, precipitating the burning of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and in turn, the order for all Iranian diplomats to evacuate Saudi territory within 48 hours. This stunning state of affairs has left the United Nations and Western powers at a loss. How might it be possible to prevent an armed conflict between the two largest Islamic religious communities in the world?

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Fighting in Mosul

Hostilities have escalated frighteningly in both countries, further distressing the majority population of restless young adults who have been enlightened by the exposure to different cultural choices thanks to the Internet. Young Arabians are bombarded with everyday barbaric news from the Islamic State, but are also attuned to the liberal views of the democratic West, leaving them in a position to question, to choose, as they become more and more disenchanted with the status quo of their lives and mistrustful of the men who have not learned a single lesson from history, that absolute power cannot survive for thousands of years, such as Hitler had assumed. The princely rulers of Saudi Arabia have not learned that the “divine rights of kings” came to an end with the French Revolution in 1799 which overthrew their monarchy, established a republic, experienced violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in Napoleon’s reign of dictatorship until he, too, was deposed as all dictators have been or will be.

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French Revolution

Only reasonable, kind minds may prevent the disintegration of humanity in Islam. The new reformation can only become a bloody massacre, nothing more, in the absence of a new Enlightenment which would elevate women to an equal status of power, which would cultivate a peaceful coexistence between nations, and which would eradicate the perpetual uprising of brotherhoods spurred on by corrupt and hungry demagogues.

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Muslim Women Give the Voting Finger

Let the United Nations intervene to stop the escalation of violence, to invite all factions of Muslim sects, as well as observers of other religions, to listen to women, to theologians, those who have the heart and the sanity to enlighten mankind. Let those who sit on high come to the realization that bloodshed will not serve in the defense of their beliefs, but rather, they might alter their stance to achieve universal peace through a tolerance of diversity.