Worldly Lessons

A local anthropologist and psychic dispels myths about Middle Eastern and Indian cultures.

When Americans look at countries in the Mideast and the Indian sub-continent and everywhere in between, we are often amazed at how little they seem to understand about us. Well, they say the same thing looking back this direction.

All the confusion makes Mohur Sidhwa such a fascinating source--a Tucsonan and U.S. citizen with unique insights into the religious strife and cultural differences in that part of the world.

Take India, for example. "The average Indian believes Americans are very wealthy and lost in a very trigger-happy gun culture," she says. "And they believe the average American dictates our foreign policy, which, of course, we don't. They think Americans can be gullible idiots on the world stage."

Looking the other direction, she says, "The average American believes everybody in India is starving and everybody meditates and everybody is loving. People do meditate and some are malnourished but the country has a huge middle class. Besides, India is regional, not one culture. Crossing a basically Hindu nation, you can go from a culture such as the Nayar that accepts the practice of multiple husbands to one that believes in multiple wives."

A U.S.-trained anthropologist, Mohur (her professional name) practices the time-honored intuitive skills of her psychic teachers in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan from her Tucson consulting business. She was trained to be both psychic and scientific her whole life.

Born in Bombay, India, Mohur was a favorite of her grandmother, the powerful head of a successful extended family in the Parsee community. Parsees practice the Zoroastrian religion and originally emigrated from Persia, which gives them a uniquely powerful position in economies that are part Hindu and part Moslem. Mohur's family spoke five languages in the home. Another example: her Parsee uncle owns the only licensed brewery in Moslem Pakistan.

"The military government is what America needs in Pakistan right now,"says Mohur, despite the average American's pro-democracy stance. "Pakistan is not a nation of Moslem fundamentalists but a nation of middle-class shopkeepers and abundant natural resources. But democracy right now would mean feudal lords would regain all their power and bushy-beard fundamentalists would intimidate everyone."

"Comparing the practice of Islam in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan is like comparing Christians in the U.S. Bible Belt with the average Frenchman," she says. "You can't compare. And particularly, do not judge Islam by the Saudi royal family and the Wahabist Islam practiced in their country. In general, and philosophically, Islam is much closer to Judaism, another Abrahamic religion, than it is to the various Christian denominations. For example, The Koran specifically allows all Muslims intermarriage with Christians and Jews, only idol worshippers are not allowed. And most Moslems, like the Jews, have no problem with women as political leaders."

Further, Mohur says, "Most Americans do not understand the economies of these countries. We do not know about the millions of people who are serfs: men and women bonded to feudal lords for life. A child can buy a parent back for a few thousand dollars, but that is a lot in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where a person might earn $150 a year. Every year, my family would gather $3,000 to $4,000 to help someone release their family from slavery. The military is often the only way for upward mobility in these countries."

As a girl of 10, Mohur and her family moved to Lahore, Pakistan. Mohur's parents and grandmother worried their children might be too influenced by the polytheism and superstitions of Hindu groups in Bombay. The historical relocations of Parsees and the relocation of Moslem after the British partition of India inspired Mohur's mother, Bapsi Sidhwa, to write stories in English of these powerful cultural conflicts from the point-of-view of young characters. Books like The Crow Eaters and Cracking India made her an international celebrity.

Even before moving to Pakistan, Mohur's gift for intuition was already recognized by her family, and when she was about 14, she was sent to live with friends in Kabul, Afghanistan, for six months in order to study with a psychic teacher.

"At the time, Kabul was a beautiful modern city with a monarchy in place," she says. "I would go to my teacher's house and watch him give a reading. With a kind of gentle teasing, he would ask me what threads of the future I could see in his client, always looking for alternate threads from me. The future is like a tapestry with different threads to be followed."

The recent visions of Kabul on the news in the American media are disturbing to Mohur. The devastation in Afghanistan goes back to the U.S. proxy war with the Soviet Union there. "The Taliban are basically the orphans of a whole generation of Moslems who died fighting Russians for the U.S.," she says. "Initially the Carter and then the Reagan administrations helped set up and fund the training camps and fighters in Pakistan and Afghanistan that later came back to harm Americans. We completely abandoned those countries after the Soviets left. Pakistanis and Afghans have never forgiven us for the power vacuum we left behind."

Mohur says one area is unchanged in these Moslem countries. Education is so highly prized that children are put on waiting lists for the best schools, at conception. And the best schools there--and in India too--are often Catholic schools. "You should see the beautiful cathedrals in Lahore," she says. "The Moslems revere the nuns. They're practically sacred because they cover everything, head-to-foot. The politicians send their kids to Catholic schools."

She herself went to school in Lahore but talked her family into letting her come to college in the U.S. "It was a culture shock," she says. "At first, I was afraid to leave my dorm room, because my family said everyone would have guns. Finally, some girls in my dorm helped me outside. They showed me my first washing machine and my first basketball game."

Mohur got her bachelor's in anthropology from the University of Denver and transferred to the University of Arizona for graduate school, where she taught classes in paranormal anthropology. She opened an office to do readings here and has been a Tucsonan ever since.