Is it Smoke?

You cannot know when or where it shall creep in…

Quiet as the softest breeze blowing by, it seeps inside the merest crevice pore, diffusing through until it nips you at your most vulnerable and you realise something profound- you’ve been done for.

What if you put up a fight? Should you put up defences, bar further entry, erect shields where none exist..?

Try as you might, you’ll find it just as futile an attempt as the positive feedback that kicks in upon suffocation. It’ll only envelop you faster.

Embrace me, it whispered.

So what if you did, it cajoled. Let go, and breathe free.

But what if I could never rise? Bound within, writhing to be free?

Love is a smoke and is made with the fume of sighs
– W. S.

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Pakistaniism Acting Up

Who are we? Pakistanis!

What do we want? To be treated like VIPs every moment of our lives!

Ever experienced a Pakistani wedding up close? If you look but a little carefully, you will find rifts wider than Karachi, riddled with potholes; each one going deeper than the last. Relatives decide to forego attendance altogether or they will pull the classic long-faced visit, wherein they make sure everybody wonders why that khala/chachi/taya/mamoo was so dour. Why? Well, the actual reasons are beyond comprehension but one may conjecture…

1. Is it because someone didn’t salam right? Perhaps my child did not go purring up to you the moment they clapped eyes on your person..? Of course, a loving correction wouldn’t have done the trick so you had to run me over with a steamroller and conveniently take it out at my loved one’s wedding.

2. Ooh I get it- it must be ’cause I didn’t invite your beloved so and so. Better yet, I did invite them but my smile wasn’t inviting enough, was it? The Dior colour was barely there and the words- didn’t use the magic word, did I? (This begs the question, do share if you know such a word, thank you please.)

3. Didn’t like the food, did you? The hosts should have known you like haleem with your biryani, how dare they serve one without the other! Perhaps you took issue with the dessert and the sheera with the gulabjamun was too runny? Tsk, tsk.

Grievously injured though you must be at the injustice done you in the name of food or invitation, it was NOT your day dear guest. Do you remember the people who invited you? Yes, the same ones whose blood you probably share, and who were crazy enough to have visited your home to deliver their invite in their anxious and exhausted state because they wanted to make you a part of their celebrations- it was their child’s wedding celebrations. Didn’t see that coming, huh? They may have seemed flawless and arrogant to your tiny vision on the big day, but they were actually simply tired and slightly overwhelmed, with their eye jumping from their guests to the food to the staff to their child and back again. Did you actually forget how it was when it was your child getting married? How small of you.

Say, [O Muhammad], “I do not ask you for this message any payment [but] only good will through kinship.” And whoever commits a good deed – We will increase for him good therein. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Appreciative.

– Quran, Ash-Shuraa, Verse 23

What’s In A Name?

Contrary to the Bard’s opinion, quite a bit. Something more than a shadow that makes your person, it truly sticks to you until death, and after, if you’ve been clever. If you’re Sarah, you are going to find it truly hard to make yourself feel like Saba. Is that why they change names for a role play, huh? It would be easy to slide into a Samantha or Sophia. If Sarah isn’t stubborn, Sophia can be as mule-headed as they come. Maybe Sarah follows the latest trends, but Sophia doesn’t care if the colour of her shirt stopped being popular last century. A name is for ownership and cannot just be let. The spelling is their own too. You can’t just spell the Sarah I know without an H and expect to get away with it. Nor can you add an H to the other Sara and think there won’t be repercussions. No sir. You better respect the spelling I own that was given to me by the parent/dada/mama/chachi/preschool clerk/government official/aunty next door/whomever because funnily enough, it now becomes me. Or so I say so. Besmirching a name? That is probably only as true as the strongest memory, and the meanest intention. Changing it? Well, it would be quite weird/unnatural to call a rose by any other name, despite what anyone may say. Wouldn’t stick either, so why would you?

Riddikulus!

Like everything else in the magical world of HP, being able to banish the manifestation of your fear is very cool indeed. How does it go again? Concentrate on adding a comical aspect to your fear, scream an incantation whilst in possession of a twig, and voila! The deed is done.

Could we employ that bit of hocus pocus to our lives? Our fears may range from the infantile to the worldly, but they are quite real after all. I remember reading in a book once, how the author banished his fear of ‘big’ people. He was in the real estate and when he had to talk to these individuals in intimidating positions, he would imagine them in their worst state of dress. A person dressed in a shabby undershirt and knickers would be easier to talk to! Interesting how it’s always been about power, isn’t it?

However, what if it’s bigger than one? What if your fear is actually of people? That’s a lot of individuals. Dubbed log kiya kahengay (what will people say) to the layman, this fear is tangible I tell you! You can smell it in the wary hesitation of a newbie upon induction, taste it in the murky waters of chit-chat, and hear it in the furiously working minds of those still wet behind the ears.

Then there are those fears we nurse quietly and hide from our own shadows, lest they slip and make us a laughingstock. We fear being accused of changing tradition, of choosing economy over the runway, of hightailing it to greener pastures, of telling disbelieving truths, of doing more, of knowing more, of curiosity and wonder, of appearing less than we are, of caring more, of not loving less enough, and of finding our fears laid bare in this list. Although, that would be hard to bring about since the list can continue ad infinitum.

What if they don’t (laugh at us)? How would we know if we’ve never tried? All these self-conversations fail to serve any purpose except bringing us ulcers. But then, log kiya kahengay.

Hoses and Cannons

If only living were as easy as following instructables on the internet. For instance, how many times have you read about tips to keep on top of your game (read: priorities), getting in control of your temper, or having better conversations? Yet if you were to rate the practical outcome of the reading to your life on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is nil and 10 is mastery, would you be in the second half? Me, I know I’d fall shy (read: very, very shy) of even 5.Similarly, time and time again we read, watch or are told about how we ought not to discriminate on colour, caste or the degree of curvature of someone’s waistline, but have we put it into practice or tried to? Wonder why it’s shalwar that easily goes in and out of fashion for ages at a time, yet demeaning jokes about said curvature or the intensity of melanin have been here since time immemorial. Why else would RasulAllah have spoken about it in the last sermon? Why indeed.

Ever thought how impossibly dull life would be if everyone had the same perfect (whatever goes for one’s haughty definition of perfect) shade of skin; an even, model perfect waist to hip ratio; and the right kind of accent? How would we ever tell Americans from British, Karachi from Lahore, Indian from Pakistani? It’d be robots all around. And that would not be God’s green Earth.

Let’s look for cooler topics to talk about, shall we? How difficult it is for people to have access to necessities and what we can do about it, how we can improve upon conversations to win hearts all around, how a greater tolerance for accents would raise our ranks in His sight, and how we should truly stop advising people on getting fairer or thinner or fatter. Don’t do it even if it’s well-intentioned. Do it when they ask you.

In this age of visuals, most people aren’t living under rocks. Which implies that many of them are already probably, possibly, maybe battling with body image-an issue so obscure to most of us on our high horses, but nevertheless true. Girls crying through childhood and beyond, men succumbing to all that looks green, and depression- all sound cliched as anything, but merit repetition for it is oh-so-easy to forget.

Ignore all the random barbs you say? Grow up already, right? Hmm, let’s just ask the clouds not to rain for it may bring floods and plates to stop moving because they are going around causing earthquakes, shall we? For we still got to litter, baby. We’re humans.

Day 43

And then they were here!

Day 37

Some think we’d be having serious trouble feeding ourselves. I’d like to disagree. The process isn’t breezy or fun but neither is it like a boulder that refuses to give way. It’s the other little things whose thorny presence can only be felt in their absence.

The encouragement that you did well, the confidence that they afford you in your decisions, the knowledge that you can err and have a laugh at it with them afterwards, the luxury of leaving every niggling detail for them to sort out be it big or small, the comfy feeling of being safe, the thrill of their appreciation, their backing at the confrontation of every horrendous worldly monster, their support for your every venture, their correction of your heedlessness, their scoldings, the absence of constant rain in their presence, the happy bolting down at dinners and being able to complain of overeating afterwards in peace- those are the kind of things that leave a gaping hole.

And the feeling of liberation! There’s hope in the air and silver lining in every dark thought, there’s strength in your back and the mind- scores of it- to brave whatever comes flying at you- be it troll, leprechaun or cake. There’s even fun in the mundane and routine, there’s cheer and trips to the outside world, there is wind in your hair and there is a fight- to do more and grow; to better oneself.

Day 31

‘Eid Mubarak! So how was yours?

If ever a people were lost for the simple things in life (food, sleep, conversation), they may have looked similar to us. Why? Here’s an attempt at explanation.

The eve of ‘Eid ul Fitr had me drinking in episode upon episode of Bugs Bunny after a healthy dose of procrastination and mommy-scolding. Too tired, quoth I. The eve of ‘Eid ul Adha was spent with the same iconic character with a certain exception: nothing was ready or prepped and no one to help us out with it (which was a good thing).

Then there was a miracle of miracles; I couldn’t find my ‘Eid dress. It was an ordinary printed lawn shalwar-qameez that mum and I had gotten on our pre-Hajj shopping trips. Down came every stitch of clothing I possessed as I emptied the cupboard to look for it, ending empty handed. Next I tried the parents’ cupboards, trying to be careful as I sifted through the neatly folded clean-smelling contents, which called out to be hugged. However, the dress had apparently disappeared into thin air.

Had ma been here, she’d have given me a good telling off. How dare I lose a dress of all things? Anyway, to the store room I went. Perhaps we’d put our purchases there after a hurried errand and forgotten it? It was a highly doubtful thought for the store had been cleaned and arranged when ma had left, and we’d promptly returned it to a tornado-struck state a few days later. How? You guessed it: whilst rummaging for things of course!

Righted an upended bucket, kicked another and stubbed a toe in haste, moved around some bags and no dress. To the laundry area, the sheets’ closet and beyond… To this moment, the dress has been unfound.

Day 29

Years of research and scientists claim that crying is actually a healing experience for it releases a great deal of harmful stress and makes you stronger. In fact, the kind of tears that result from an emotional episode (anger, grief, etc.) are better than the ordinary tearing up such as the one that arises from something having gone in the eye. Now how well have YOUR tears been received, that’s the question!

Having said that, psychologists still advise you to refrain from giving in to crying at the workplace or school for obvious reasons. Yet, you should revisit the emotion when in a safe place such as your room or a bathroom stall (I promise you this example comes from the article!). Also, it isn’t “healing” if you berate yourself during the experience, like laying down the blame at your door or calling yourself names.

I can go on as I read a fair number of articles, but what I am sincerely interested in knowing however, is how good the above knowledge made you feel. Was it liberating? Did it give your crying some sort of validation? Or did you still just shake your head..?

Sure, showing your vulnerable side to others might make you open to empathy, trust and kindness, perhaps even friendship! However, there are those sceptical like my brother, who would tell you that tearing up will make you fair game to the wolves.

‘Ah, she/he’s so easy to get to? Let’s get him!’ Inviting the kind of human un-kindness that you are quite definitely good without.

They also say that the stronger gender (pun intended) is put off by tears because the pearly waters give off this slight scent (not unlike ultrasounds I suppose?) which is well, off-putting. Oh well. RasulAllah (s) did advise us to take care of our women, and be kind to each other. And Allah says:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا يَسْخَرْ قَوْمٌ مِنْ قَوْمٍ عَسَىٰ أَنْ يَكُونُوا خَيْرًا مِنْهُمْ وَلَا نِسَاءٌ مِنْ نِسَاءٍ عَسَىٰ أَنْ يَكُنَّ خَيْرًا مِنْهُنَّ ۖ وَلَا تَلْمِزُوا أَنْفُسَكُمْ وَلَا تَنَابَزُوا بِالْأَلْقَابِ ۖ بِئْسَ الِاسْمُ الْفُسُوقُ بَعْدَ الْإِيمَانِ ۚ وَمَنْ لَمْ يَتُبْ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ

Believers, no one group of men should jeer at another, who may after all be better than them; no one group of women should jeer at another, who may after all be better than them; do not speak ill of one another; do not use offensive nicknames for one another. How bad it is to be called a mischief-maker after accepting faith! Those who do not repent of this behaviour are evildoers. (Al Hujurat, 49:11)

Cool huh? Beware when you make fun of someone for their tears y’all!

Day 23

Something I wrote for school going children to be published in their newsletter