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No Spinzone: Wellness in the age of Taliban

April 13, 2009

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Before the Taliban ban beauty of brain and body, it's best to be in a state of preparedness. Should such a day dawn, heaven forbid, only the fittest will survive.

I never took my visits to the dentist seriously. Today I regret it. Last year my dentist pulled out two teeth because they had become infected.  Being toothless was terrible. Each time I opened my mouth, people could see two gaping holes. That hurt my self-image. So last week I got an implant. I mean a dental one; not the one women go after for sex appeal. That's old hat. In America it's a multi-billion industry. 'Barbie Dolls' (or Brigitte Bardots for baby boomers) flout a figure not endowed by Mother Nature but the cosmetic surgeon. 

Age catches up. Teeth fall. Hair thins. Body sags. Mind slows. Heart saddens. Friends die. Depression destroys. Wrinkles increase. Eyes glaze.

Thanks to modern makeovers, all these 'old devils' can be dealt with firmly. But you need money. So, begin saving for the rainy day if you want to maximise your wellness for as long as you can.

Why don't you put dentures instead? I ask Dr Shahid Mahmood, hoping he'll spare me the ordeal and cost of a dental implant. 'Sure' he says. 'But the dentures are not a permanent solution. They are messy and move about as you masticate the morsel in the mouth...'

Okay, I get the picture and resign to the 'surgery' hoping I come out alive! The piped music and the lovely spring flowers from the window soothe my palpitating heart. I love his garden. The landscaping is lovely. I try not to panic. By my jaws are taut.

'Just relax' he says softly. Twenty minutes later, it's over and done with. 'Now you go and tell your friends that this procedure is painless (I'll vouch for that...not even a drop of blood) and if they want to remain beautiful and healthy, they should go for implants.'

He tells me that he's doing an implant a day. 'Overseas Pakistanis are flying in to get the procedure done here because it's many times more economical than abroad...They meet their family, take a vacation and return with brand new teeth!' 

Well, if the Sharif brothers can get hair implants and Begums so-and-so (I daren't name these dames because I myself may soon be joining their league) can get their faces and bodies fixed, why not get new teeth for those fallen? We in Pakistan are prone to superficial beautification; trust me, no harm in that, than taking care of our health. If you don't have teeth, the food you eat will never get digested because it's not been properly chewed. Well let me stop here and move on to matters brainy.

Can one become an author at age 80? 'I've written my third book,' Mian Ata Rabbani tells me. The next two hours fly. His joie de vivre is infectious. Company of such men is a tonic for melancholia. 'I wake up early in the morning, offer my prayers, get dressed, eat breakfast, read the papers and then sit down to write' he says.

His first book I was the Quaid's ADC was so much in demand that he had to get a 3rd edition printed in 2007. He's dedicated it to two women whom he has lost - Khurshid, his mother and Kishwar, his wife. Commissioned in the British Indian Air Force in 1941, Rabbani was a fighter pilot. Why did you become a pilot? I ask. There's a naughty twinkle in his eye as he relates the reasons - they have to do with circumstances that cross into the metaphysical. 'I've lead a charmed life.' His strong faith in the 'Divine Design' has guided his 25 years of service to Pakistan Air Force. 

'My years in blue uniform' was the Group Captain's second book. It is rich in detail and description. Especially for those who have served in the air force. The first person narrative makes for a chatty and informative read. The writer in him keeps him pegged to his table for long hours. 'I don't socialise much,' he says. Pakistanis his age, normally lead very quiet dull lives. They have nothing to do. In America, the latest fad to fight dementia and Alzheimer's are the 'brain gyms.'

To exercise the brain these 'neurobics' as in aerobics have computerised brain-fitness for an improved memory and attention skills. Linda Bucklin, a 63-year-old writer, swears by the brain gym in her neighbourhood.  'She now works out three times a week and credits a computer 'visual processing' programme for helping her find her car keys faster and sharpen her tennis skills,' reports The New York Times.

But Rabbani gets his 'neurobics' by writing. Recently his third book 'The sun shall rise' came to the bookstores. Judging by the title and the lovely uplifting bright orange cover displaying a map of Pakistan, the author has an important message for us all. 'Pakistan has withstood such storms earlier and this will also blow over...the sun shall rise again, inshallah.'

Oh! By the way, did I tell you that Senator Raza Rabbani is his son? During our meeting not once is Raza mentioned. Father and son have their own careers cut out. The authorial persona of the senior Rabbani does not cross into the political space of his son. This makes for such a refreshing change in today's 'Who is Who' culture where individuals with famous last names matter more than their own performance. Besides, our history is so poorly recorded that first person narratives of the Quaid and the PAF by Ata Rabbani are weighty.

But one needs more ammunition to fight the ugliness, death, decapitations, women lashings in public, corruption by our rulers, state apathy, grinding poverty and brutality in the name of religion. One needs to draw upon one's store of spirituality, empathy and goodness. Give freely of your time, energy, money and love to causes that can make Ata Rabbani's prophesy 'The sun shall rise again' come true.

As titans of civil society - no matter how old like Roedad Khan - be humanely forthcoming. Rejoice for you have now an independent judiciary. The battle for good over evil has begun. This alone should brighten your waking hours.

One last reminder - do take care of your dental hygiene, do remember to floss otherwise it's implants for you, or worse still, dentures!
aniaz@fas.harvard.edu