In conversation with ex-DPS student Taha Kaleem exploring Sufi shrines as sites of interfaith peace-building
Taha Kaleem (an ex-student of DPS, Srinagar) is studying in Georgetown university, Qatar. He was recently selected as the Berkley Center Pulitzer Center international reporting fellow. Taha's project will explore Sufi shrines as sites of interfaith peace-building in Kashmir. Here are the excerpts of a conversation with Taha Kaleem:
Q: You’re exploring Sufi shrines as sites of interfaith peace-building in Kashmir. Can you elaborate on the topic of your research?
A: Sufi shrines have been an integral part of my childhood and much of my adult life as well. I have visited numerous shrines and they have had a profound impact on my outlook towards life. Taking several classes related to Theology and Philosophy at Georgetown shaped the way I thought about religion and its role in society. My research project aims to examine the impact of religion on the ongoing conflict in Kashmir by focusing on the Sufi shrines located in Srinagar and examining the different ways in which people interact with these shrines.
Q: Can you tell us about your interest in Sufism, particularly, how you became interested in the subject?
A: I come from a family of Sufis. My grandfather is a Sufi himself, who inherited this legacy from his father. So, Sufism has been an integral part of my life. I used to observe the everyday activities of my grandfather and the different ways he used to interact with his “murids”. These
observations coupled with my recently acquired theoretical background sparked an interest about Sufism and Sufi practices in me.
Q: Who or what would you say played a pivotal role in your journey as a student so far? What motivates you to keep going?
A: As someone once told me, if you look at the bigger picture and expand the contextualization of your problems, they will seem insignificant compared to what other people are going through. This statement resonates with me and has kept me motivated so far in my journey as a student. Whenever, I used to feel demotivated and was on the verge of giving up, I used to remind myself of all that I have achieved and overcome so far and also my problems are surmountable as compared to those who have it harder and harsher.
Q: If you had the chance, what would you say to your younger self given what you know now?
A: I would tell my younger self that I need to enjoy the present and worry a little less about the future.
Q: What is the one book or author you would say everyone must be acquainted with and why? (5 books that influenced you and you would recommend.)
A: So far, I have encountered numerous books that have significantly shaped my thinking, but if I have to pick top 5 then I would recommend these: Discipline and Punish by Michael Foucault, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber, A House of Mr. Biswas by V.S Naipaul, Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, and Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer
Q: What are some of the biggest disparities that you can identify between the educational setup here and abroad?
A: The one biggest difference that I encountered between the educational setup here and in Kashmir is the inability to develop critical thinking that has marred the current generation of students in Kashmir. We are so determined to conform to the unrealistic societal standards that we completely forget about examining the choices we are making, especially about our careers.
Q: How was your childhood in Kashmir? How did it shape you into who you are today?
A: My childhood in Kashmir was relatively “normal”. My parents provided me the best of everything and without their efforts and hard work, I wouldn’t be where I am today. But realizing the disparity in the number of opportunities and exposure between children of Kashmir and other parts of India. I realized that I would have to fight extra harder to carve out opportunities for me with the limited resources that were available to me. My childhood in Kashmir made me resilient and tenacious.
Q: As a student of Delhi Public School, Srinagar, how and in what ways do you think that the school cultivates a sense of responsibility towards your society?
A: DPS has symbolized what it means to give back to the society by not only offering a quality education, but also demonstrating the ways in which we can give back to the society. Especially the various initiatives they had undertaken. Not forgetting the school motto, Service before self, was emblematic in instilling a sense of giving back in me.
Q: Lastly, are there any fond memories from your school life that you are comfortable sharing with us?
A: Spending most of my childhood in DPS, I was fortunate enough to cultivate some amazing lifelong memories. But one that stands apart is getting to host Shirin in 2015 and welcoming the different dignitaries and students who took part in the festival.