Game, Set, Match

One man, one vote.
Thats democracy.
And in Pakistan, that’s always going to mean PPP or PMLN.
Because Pakistan is not just the 5000-ish people sitting in Azadi Chowk, its 190 million people. Most of whom are sitting at home glued to the television, or at small roadside cafes, glasses of milky tea suspended in mid-air, trying to make sense through the static of Radio Pakistan on an old transistor radio. Most probably though, they’re asleep, under a thatched roof in a village somewhere, blissfully unaware of this pusedo civil war raging through their land. I say most probably because probability, like democracy, is a game of numbers. And one old time player seems to be trying to overthrow this numbers game under the very guise of protecting it.

Pakistan is never Utopian, not even in retrospect, but its never been as Orwellian as it got today. Sure we’ve had martial law, and totalitarian regimes aplenty, but never have we had such a bizarre, even comical, political situation on our hands. An ex cricketer, with good looks and great accomplishments, has declared our government unconstitutional and our elections undemocratic, and pitched camp outside the Parliament with his little army, refusing to move until the Prime Minister resigns (the insinuation being that he himself will then jump onto the vacated seat). So is a handful of people, in no ways a majority, laying seige to the house of the Prime Minister and the government, demanding they move over and let them take power, diplomatic? Is it a much needed revolution? Or is it an illogical, unlawful, desperate, and Machiavellian case of sour grapes?

What Mr Khan wants is not democracy. He wants power. And he thinks his merry little band of followers, high on his takeover soundtrack and also with the prospect of how many calories they’re burning with said playlist, are ammunition enough to take on the state of Pakistan. Tempted as I am by the idea of a younger, cooler government, with better English and clothes and dance moves, I know that idealism is only worth so much. Its also tempting to vent some more about the dancing skeletor aka Chief Minister Khattak, Mr Khan’s pitchy rhetoric, his fondness for brunch, his uncouth and flamboyant vernacular, his holing inside a bullet proof vehicle while his workers suffer for his vision, and the fact that he finds absolutely nothing ironic about claiming to be the best man to run a country when his own province has issued a no confidence vote against him. And while I’m on that topic, let me point out that he has absolutely no problems with elections in that province because he actually won there. So elections are free and fair as long as Mr Khan wins? Because it is so inconceivable for people to want to vote for anyone else? Ego issues, please to move away from parliament house and to a psychiatrist’s couch.

Democracy isn’t a means for electing the most suitable, or the most idealistic, or the most popular, or the most charismatic politician. Its a means for electing the one with the most people behind him. And Mr. Khan hasn’t even managed to get 1% of the population to show up at his revolutionary parade. Ever seen the Oscars? Thats around 3000 people. Mr Khan’s crowd, not more than 10000. Pakistan, over 190 million people. And sure, Mr Khan’s followers may almost exlusively be the liberal educated elite, idealistic university students, young professionals, all of who want to see Pakistan blossom out of this narrow minded, poverty ridden stage, and arguably are best qualified to pioneer this vision. But these people are not all of Pakistan. Most of Pakistan is an agricultural enterprise, with millions living on, off, and for a tiny plot of land. They don’t know about the constitution, or solar panels, or laptops. All they know is their land, and their land often comes with a landowner. These landowners have their allegiance, and their votes. And that’s what democracy is: give each man a vote, and each man will look after his priorities. Their priorities are clear, so are their allegiances, and so is Pakistan’s democratic future. For better or for worse, a country with as much poverty as Pakistan will never democratically elect a third party if they could, instead, elect their bosses. Now maybe if only the liberal educated elite were to vote, with no financial restrictions, and an eye for male beauty, they might possibly elect Mr Khan. But that would not be democracy. The masses get a vote too. To quote the man himself (quoting Tennyson without crediting him) are they children of a lesser God?

Now given that he’s having such difficulties in grasping the concept of democracy, I think its best to take a leaf out of his own book, and explain this in terms of cricket. You know he was a cricketer right? He was the captain of the team that won the world cup. You didn’t know that? Well, thats understandable, its not like he brings it up every five minutes.

Anywho, in one of his rivetingly flippant 8 pm broadcasts (Pakistan’s answer to prime time television: just as juicy, but with a much higher mortality rate), he told us that he never lost because he never gave up. And he sure isn’t giving up now. The problem is, this match was played a while ago, the results have been declared, the other team has marched of the field and have been sitting in their offices with a big shiny trophy for a year now. The next world cup is in five years time, see you then. But Mr Khan is still standing mid field, bat akimbo, petulantly stamping his feet and refusing to move on with his life until there’s a rematch. But instead of 11 men (captaining whom in a game consisting of grown men hitting a ball, and then running between two wooden stumps as if their life depended on it, is not sufficient qualification for running a country), he now had a few thousand. Instead of a bat, he has a microphone, which he uses to make statements that not only lack diplomacy, but drip vemon to the extent of closing all doors for future collaboration with the government. And instead of an umpire, he has television channels, agog for ratings, an army, poised for action, and an international audience, warily looking on as the government of a nuclear power is weakened from within, and the very institutions of Pakistan are called inconsequential. And instead of being laughed at and off the field, for poor sportsman’s spirit, the possible outcome of this little tantrum could be the declaration of Pakistan as a failed state, with either the army, or boots of an international variety, stomping over our land.

And all I can do is wait and watch. This doesn’t feel like a democracy.

Cellophane Days

The light’s different in Pakistan. And I’m not talking metaphorically; quite literally, the sun shines differently back home. Like a kindergartner’s painting, the sun’s rays are very definitely yellow. Its almost like someone reached up and smoothed a piece of yellow cellophane over the sun, giving us our very own brand of desi, brightly coloured sunshine. And in these last days of summer, as the blinding summer haze melts into still winter mornings, there’s a mellow, almost apologetic, touch to the sunlight; a certain depth that casts a nostalgic shadow on even the most mundane of activities. 

Not that anything in Pakistan is mundane. Its like living in a land of magical realism; this is the country that both created and condemned Rushdie. Where else can you find a culture that stigmatizes homosexuality, reducing men with less conventional proclivities, or at least less convincing acting skills, to a joke, but also reveres the love between a male priest and his disciples so long as its cloaked in an appropriate amount of spirituality. Sufism, a lifestyle that transcends cast and creed, and lends itself to all forms of Islam, has been pioneered by poets who eulogized their love for their Sufi teachers in verse and song. The poetry is poignant enough to survive through ill-spent centuries and well-meant translations, and the love and longing in the words rings as clear today as it did then. And it rings loud too, Sufi music and poetry are the only common thread in the otherwise divided fabric of Pakistani society. Quite simply, they are the Pakistani equivalent of Shakespeare, the opera and a choir service rolled in one: reverential yet relatable, passionate yet euphemistic. And that, my friends, is magical realism. You pull up at the traffic lights on a Friday, listening to an Amir Khusro poem, the only thing the radio deems appropriate enough to play on the religious Sabbath. And as you listen to these ageless words, celebrating the beauty of the beloved, there is a tap on the window. You don’t turn around, this isn’t your first rodeo, and you know that if encouraged, the tapping will turn into a full blown street performance by the transvestite knocking at your window. You also know you don’t have to worry about being rude, this particular group has been ostracized by society so completely and for so long, they probably wouldn’t know how to respond to a kind word anyway. And so you continue to ignore them, shunning them for their blatant homosexuality, choosing to appreciate instead the words of Khusro, penned by a man, ostensibly for another. But ostensibly is not the same as blatantly. The quality of light changes. And that makes all the difference.

I wish I had noticed this years ago, when I woke up every day to this cellophane sun. But my particular brand of appreciation seems to work only in reverse; I realized how magnificent the summer days in Pakistan were by looking out at the snowfall in Manchester. The overwhelmingly white landscape glared at me, unfamiliar, shunning me with my unaccustomed eyes and requisite quilted ( read foreigner) coat. I shut my eyes, almost involuntarily, summoning up images of a more familiar land, and suddenly I saw the light. And I felt at home. Yellow sunshine, who would have thought?

I only wish I had seen the light sooner, and not just in the rear view mirror. I wish I had taken more pictures in the summer dusk. I wish I had listened to more Sufi music, really listened. And I wish, oh how I wish, I had rolled down my window at the first tap. I wish I had the courage to look at the man standing at the signal, his inexpertly applied make up running down his face, his garishly printed dress crumpled, his eyes closed, as if against the sun. Ostensibly. Instead, all I can do is close my eyes, and remember those golden days. My cellophane days. Translucent, transcendent, temporary.

The Pakistani Paradox: How Not to Steinem

Its been a while since we last talked, and man, do I have a legitimate reason for you. It seems like all the metaphysical angst in my life right now has decided to manifest itself in a physical form, rather like a malevolent spirit in a horror movie. And so, instead of an ever present yet intangible state of disquiet, I now have an ever present and very tangible headache. Not the kind that leads to flowly kaftans, ten minute naps and sudden bursts of creativity, but the kind that makes you curl up in a foetal position and cry for your mother. Which is not necessarily conducive to writing, so here I am, weeks late for my update. Oooh, I made a funny!

Appropriate, seeing as Pakistan is not just where funny lives, but where funny comes to die. There is no dearth for humor in this country, intentional or otherwise, provided you have a functioning sense of irony and a pillow to scream into when the jokes get a bit too close for comfort. I mean, even something as prosaic and inconvenient as buying sanitary napkins is a comedy routine here. You shuffle off to the grocery store, torn between judging and lusting after the designer bags being toted around in a country where most people live on less in a decade than a Birkin bag costs. You make your way to the diaper aisle, or as we like to think of it, the aisle of secret secretions. There, huddled between the Pampers and baby wipes, is a tiny pile of sanitary napkins, right next to a pile of brown paper bags. You make your secret secretion selection, pop it in the brown paper bag, tuck it discreetly in a corner of the trolley, and cover it up with more acceptable purchases. Like meat, and cereal, and cleaning products. Its only respectful. 

If you think speed and precision are the only skills needed for the monthly purchases, you underestimate this land, my friend. The real show starts when you reach the counter, where the inevitably male, middle aged, and extremely respectable cashier will now be your acting partner. Don’t worry, he’s completely clued in on the charade. I wonder whether they are trained for this during their inductions? And if so, do the store managers, the most male and respectable of them all, ever actually use the name of these shameful products? Or do they just grunt and point? Well, whatever strategy they use in these clandestine training sessions, it works. The cashiers are pros at this particular play, managing to pick up your little brown bag of shame, pry it open, scan the barcode, and deposit it in your bag before you could scream ‘Leper!’ Honestly, you would never know they have that capacity for speed judging from their normal service, which lies somewhere between disinterested and deliberately malicious. 

Some people would find this offensive and sexist. To those people I would say, you haven’t been to Pakistan. After a certain point, you have to stop sweating the small stuff. Literally, its like 40 degrees on a good day. 

Whats still offensive to me, and I hope I will never grow immune to that level of depravity, are the women-only magazines that are exclusive to, and representative of, a certain mindset here. The mindset that suggests qualifying as a dentist is just something you do to kill time till prince charming arrives. They also believe that domestic abuse is acceptable in moderation (I think the current consensus is don’t need a DNR, don’t need a divorce), the colour of your skin is a perfectly justifiable reason for your husband to leave you (the Raj-iculous complex), and that you are in no way equal, let alone superior, to your mate. The anti-Steinem’s if you will. Luckily, this is just one mindset. There are also lots of people like my father, who not only put his girls through university without a mating probability calculation, but was also so deeply offended by my mother’s suggestion that he possessed such a magazine, that he left the comforts of his study willingly, and shirtless, to assure her he has never read a single one. Not a one, he argued, holding up his entire magazine collection for her inspection. Not a one. 

And for that I am glad. Glad that it would never cross my mind to give up a definite career in hopes of catching a man, glad that I would never even consider using a skin whitening product, glad that I have a brain and a backbone to go with my heart. And particularly glad that on the days the mercury rises, and the service at the stores is so slow it would give a tortoise a superiority complex, my brother will occasionally skip the brown paper bag and watch the cashier squirm. Sometimes the only way to laugh at the small stuff, is by watching someone else sweat it. 

As the crow flies

Do you remember that fable about the sun and the wind? The one where they both want to get a man to take off his coat, but while the wind rages and roars to no effect, the sun’s gentle rays do the trick. No? Well, basically, there’s a fable where they both want to get a man to take off his coat, but while the wind rages and roars to no effect, the sun’s gentle rays do the trick. See what I did there? 😉

Now I know Aesop was a pretty smart man, but I’m a wind girl through and through. Maybe its the desi factor; the sun’s no novelty when you’re raised in the tropics, and once you hit puberty and start listening to the ever present white-is-right propaganda, you never take your coat off in the sun again. Actually, that might be why rain is romanticized in our culture and movies so much…..the femme fatales can’t really run out and dance in the sun, the darker they get, the darker their future. It might also explain why our notoriously PG13 upbringing turns a blind eye to these drenched women cavorting in the rain: at least they inspire young girls everywhere to stay out of the sun!

 

Regardless of their ulterior, anti-feminist agenda, the movies worked on me. I am my happiest, and therefore the most me, when the wind is raging outside, loud enough to drown out my thoughts. And so, as Hurricane Bertha knocks on the window today, I abandon all intellectual pursuits, like books and BBC, and curl up on the corner of the sofa, nursing a cup of chai and letting my mind and soul go a’wandering where they will. Unproductive, unchecked abandon. Bliss. 

Or something resembling bliss, since I doubt comparing your sisters to the sun and the wind can be called ‘bliss’ legitimately. Despite my best efforts to stay on neutral subjects like the weather and my health, my mind seems to have, well, a mind of its own. By time time I was on my second cup of chai, it  was gleefully drawing up charts of my sister’s similarities to the forces of nature. Number one in both cases is the capacity to wreck havoc on unsuspecting villagers, teachers and farmers. I haven’t yet achieved telepathy with my mom, but I am sure her mind will agree, even if her heart refuses to admit it. 

The middle child in our family, is so called not because we fail to understand the concept of even numbers and taking averages, but because she has sportingly taken it upon herself to shoulder all the complexes and provide all the drama of a middle child. She wears her mantle proudly, with a perfect mix of indifference and righteous indignation. And while you would think the latter would seem ridiculous and out of place on an extremely successful twenty-eight year old, who managed to get an education her parents had never dreamed of, and created a life they would never be part of, she sure manages to pull it off. She’s one of those people who is absolutely sure of where they want to go in life, and how they’re going to get there. Now that’s a very successful approach to life, but its a bit too definite a plan to be accommodating for plus ones. Not that she wants any, she’s very happy going it alone. For those of us who still care enough to try and break through her walls, we end up feeling more like an unwelcome hitchhiker as opposed to a partner, perching uncertainly on the passenger seat, worried whether we will actually make it to our destination or be booted out when we try and change the radio settings. Don’t get me wrong though, she’s a lot of fun when she sings out loud with you, and she does do that once in a blue moon. But most of the time, she prefers being in charge of the dials and the destination. Because that’s what it’s all about with her; the destination. Not the journey.

My eldest sister, the blessed one, lives for the journey. When we were younger, and I shared my room with the soon-to-be-successful middle sister, I hated my eldest sister. I thought she was insane, and dramatic, and self-obsessed. Then I grew up. I realized all of us are self obsessed, its a basic survival instinct in this world. The truly remarkable people are those who realise this early on in life, and make no bones about it. Those who marry their instinct for self preservation with honesty and kindness. Its an art, and only those who start practicing early achieve it in time. My eldest sister has it. At twenty nine, she is both the most selfish and the kindest person I know. Glance at her, and you see someone who’s perpetually late, who monopolizes conversations, orders dinner without asking for everyone’s opinion, shows up without notice, and stays away without explanation. Look at her closely, and you’ll be blinded by the sunshine she brings into our lives.  She’s the only person other than my mother who has told me, repeatedly and out loud, that she loves me. She indulges my father’s idiosyncrasies, she stays quiet every time my mother tries to interfere in her marriage, she never tries to catch a ride with her younger sister. She might not travel as far, she may not even know where she’s going, but she will never ever travel alone. And if somewhere along the journey, a bird crosses the road, as they tend to at the most inconvenient of times, there will always be someone sitting comfy in the passenger seat to shout out in warning. 

Maybe its the wind, maybe its the fact that I haven’t seen the blessed one for weeks and have been living with the middle sister, maybe its the fact that this cup of chai is not refilling magically….. whatever the reason may be, in this moment I know all I want in life is someone in the passenger seat. Someone to sing along with, to get lost with, to find my way with. And if I have that, who cares how far I get? Life isn’t measured as the crow flies.

 

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

Earnest Hemingway

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/think-again/

 

Tiger Mothers

The prodigal sister has been having a really tough time at work. Now I find it difficult to take her problems seriously, from where I am standing, surely the biggest problem is finding work. And once that bridge is crossed, any problems you may have are problems you’re being paid to face. Not such a bad deal as problems go. 

My derision might also have a little to do with the fact that she is currently estranged from her parents, has no personal, meaningful relationships other than with people from work, and is blissfully unaware that these are her real problems. So when she was crying about her work, part of me wanted to shrug my shoulders and roll my eyes, while the other part wanted to point out how ironic it was that she was asking her six years younger, unemployed sister for help when she could have asked her fifty something, highly successful mother. Surely age and experience is what you look for in advice givers? Oh, wait…. She hasn’t talked to her mother in a year. And if her mother is dispensable, what value would her advice have?

The only thing that makes me angrier than her blatant disregard of my mother is my mother’s unshakable love for her. Even if she can’t see her daughter rolling her eyes at every phone call, or smirking in derision when she tells her about her day, I am sure she can get the tone. But she just doesn’t seem to get the message. She still calls everyday, she still asks after her everytime, she still prays for her every night. No matter how badly she’s treated, or how much she’s hurting, she still loves my sister as much as she did twenty years ago, when she was too young to bring anything but joy. I don’t know what my mom is made of.

Actually, I do know. She’s made of her experiences. 

A few months ago, on a particularly dismal Thursday, when life was edging from disappointing to pointless, she saved me. As she does on a regular basis. But this time, it wasn’t with a well timed cup of tea, or a particularly extravagant pair of shoes, or a new haircut. I had ventured well past the Happiness through Possessions detour, and was edging dangerously close to the Point of No Return. And that’s where she was waiting, this time with a glimpse into her life to help me rediscover mine. 

You see, her feelings for us are more than the unconditional love of all mothers. If you doubt me, try living with us. We’re so utterly depraved, and rude, and callous. The prodigal daughter for instance, told my mother all of last year she couldn’t visit sooner because she was planning to come on my mother’s birthday for a month. She didn’t. And my mother waited in vain for a phone call, let alone a visit. Its now been a whole year since she’s seen her daughter’s face. As someone who stood over her shoulder as she glanced around the room with barely concealed hope, trying to spot sis hiding in the corner as she cut her birthday cake, I would understand if she stopped loving my sister. Or at least demanded an apology. But not my mom. She just loves her children with all her heart, without expecting even basic human decency in return. 

And would you believe it, there is an explanation for it? I always suspected her overwhelming affection stems from the fact that she was an only child, brought up by a single mother, and wanted desperately to have a family of her own. What I didn’t suspect was that our family was originally bigger than it is now. Apparently there were five little monsters, instead of four, but my older brother didn’t make it. She miscarried five months along, alone with three little children, while my father was away on work. She wasn’t showing, he never knew, and neither did any of the other little ones. It was her silent hope, and her silent loss. Which is why, I suspect, she is handling this situation so well. My sister isn’t the only child she ever lost, and this time, there’s actually hope of getting her back. No matter how unlikely it may seem, no matter how unworthy that child maybe. My mother still peers into dark corners looking for her. 

My mother is an exceptional woman, like most mother’s are. Forged in the fires of adversity, condemned to love children who owe them everything but think nothing of them, who never love them as much, as deeply, as openly. I made a mistake in thinking my mother was made weak by love; she is in fact the strongest and most accomplished person I know. Her love perseveres. Her tragedies are her life lessons. Her sorrow gives her strength. She has known how bad life can get, how unrequited love can be, how final some losses are. And because she has gone to the Point of No Return, fallen down the cliff, and climbed back up, she no longer fears anything. She saved herself, and so she knows how to save us. 

I’m not my mother. Not in the least. I cannot save my sister. But I can try to pass on the lessons my mother taught me. She might listen. And luckily for me, even if she won’t listen to anything I say, she will, as we all tend to, trust the wisdom of strangers. So I have lent her my copy of The Joy Luck Club, a tale of extraordinary mothers who are mistaken for ordinary creatures by their own daughters. And maybe in those pages, she will hear my mother’s voice. And find her own.

“So this is what I will do. I will gather together my past and look. I will see a thing that has already happened. The pain that cut my spirit loose. I will hold that pain in my hand until it becomes hard and shiny, more clear. And then my fierceness can come back, my golden side, my black side. I will use this sharp pain to penetrate my daughter’s tough skin and cut her tiger spirit loose. She will fight me, because this is the nature of two tigers. But I will win and give her my spirit, because this is the way a mother loves her daughter.” 

 

Liebster Award: A master class in procrastination

Most people avoid bad news. I occasionally avoid good news as well. Particularly when it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work! Not that there is anything remotely ugly and overalls-y about being nominated for an award by a fellow blogger. Thanks Narmadhaa! My day was well and truly made.

The thing is though, when someone tells you they think enough of your work to give you a pretty pink, albeit virtual, badge, there is a certain pressure on you to perform well in the future. I know this isn’t an Oscar speech, but honestly, I would kill for an orchestra to interrupt me and save me from having to pretend to be interesting and cool. I’m not. At least not effortlessly.

Which explains why this shiny little virtual badge has been sitting in my virtual chest for nearly a month, while I try to muster enough courage to pick up the mike and get up on that podium. And as my orchestra remains as elusive as it is imaginary, I guess I will have to begin anyway.

Here’s the lovely lady who nominated me: http://narmadhaa.com/

And here are my not-so-lovely answers for her questions:

  1. What’s the last book you read? Hmm, had I manned up and written this blog when I should have, it would have been a totally different answer. I make my way through books like most women make their way through shoes: vociferously, without any reason. The last one I read was actually an unusual choice for me, it was a friend’s recommendation into the world of fantasy. Totally worth it though. The Night Circus. Magnificent, consuming, hauntingly beautiful. Its as if someone gathered all your childhood dreams, and waited till you were old enough to appreciate them again before putting them into words.
  2. Whose music do you listen to most often? My Dad always says I have an 85 year old women living inside me. Well, she used to be 80, but I guess she grew older with me. I love listening to all types of music, I’m just as inclined to dance to Sinatra as I am to rap along to Eminem. The music I listen to most often though is old Indian and Pakistani film music; I don’t know whether its the poetry that makes it so poignant or the clarity of the tunes, but those old records do something for me that current music never can. And no matter where I am in the world or in life, Geeta Dutt’s Nanhi Kali always brings me home.
  3. How do you like your surroundings when you’re writing? With easy access to caffeine, cake and company.
  4. What’s the one place you want to visit, but still haven’t? Paris. I loved Paris before loving Paris became fashionable, and I know I will love it long after. Its the most unconditional relationship I have. One day.
  5. Name the one book you’ve read and reread over and over again? Oh so many! Jane Eyre is a firm favorite, its the only heroine I can see myself in, and the only love story I want to see myself in. Just the right blend of magic and reality.
  6. Have you ever stayed up all night working on a blog post (or many)? If so, tell us which one(s). The very first one! If I had a penny for every time I hit Edit, well, I could possibly buy a .com address!
  7. What is your favourite/most common method of writing? (typing, paper and pencil/pen, smartphone) It used to be a pen and paper, back in school. But university has ruined pen and paper for me I’m afraid, now I’m the girl typing away on her laptop in the darkest corner of the cafe.
  8. What is the one blog post that came out from your heart. And was so honest that you didn’t change much before publishing it? Of Mercy and Mothers. That post was written through a veil of tears. https://insearchoflostmuchness.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/of-mercy-and-mothers/
  9. Which topic have you written most about in your blog? Family I feel. The blog was supposed to be about life, and having a healthy and productive outlet for emotions that don’t get an out otherwise. And apparently, my family are solely responsible for inspiring these feelings in  me!
  10. What’s your favourite beverage, hot or cold? Water! I’m a water baby. According to my mom, according to chinese zodiac, and according to my best friend who, when I said I wanted to live near a brook, listening to water, said ‘Yeah, and drinking it.’ Truer words have never been said.
  11. There are loads of blogging services on the web. Why did you particularly choose, and decide to stay with WordPress? Any sentiments? Around 10 years ago, I decided to give blogging a shot in school summer holidays. And back then, I chose WordPress. Now that blog did eventually go down in flames: my sister hacked it, wrote weird posts supporting Michael Jackson, and as I could not believe she would do something so pointless, I just closed the blog. Anyway, 10 years later, when I had long endless summer days stretching out in front of me again, I chose WordPress again. Of course this time around, my sister has not been invited to read it 😉

I’m also supposed to let you in on 11 deep dark secrets about myself. Well, maybe not deep and dark, or secrets even. But it sounds so much more dramatic than ‘random facts.’ And in case I havent made it blatantly obvious over the last fifteen posts, I’m pretty dramatic.

  1. I’m pretty dramatic
  2. I am a scientist, a stylist, an event planner, a struggling writer, and an unofficial therapist for my family. But what I really wanted to be, and still do, is an orator. A professional story teller. One day. 
  3. I have a mortal fear of being pushed in front of a train. House of Cards did not help.
  4. I have a doll collection. Over 40 stuffed toys, with names and back stories. I’m a bit of a child at heart. Its my favorite thing about me.
  5. I LOVE the colour purple. Lilacs, violets, lavender, any shade will do. But I don’t own any purple clothes. And as I use clothes as a medium of personal expression, I find that odd.  
  6. Even though I have read far more books than volumes of poetry, I love poetry much more than prose. I think its infinitely more beautiful than prose. Tennyson, Coleridge, Byron, Auden, Eliot, Cummings,Bukowski, Ghalib, Faiz. If only I could live my life in verse.
  7. If someone hums a song in front of me, I end up singing it unconsciously. Even if I hate the song. Endless amusement for the family. 
  8. I never wanted to be Rachel in Friends. I always wanted to be Chandler. Or to marry him. Either will do.
  9. I dislike people who look down on wherever they’re from. I love Lahore. Its not perfect, but neither am I. 
  10. Every time I develop an obsession with food (the scones incident of 2013 is legendary), I learn how to make it. And once it becomes attainable, I don’t want it as much.
  11. Richard Armitage remains unattainable. I remain obsessed.

I am also supposed to nominate other bloggers, and ask them questions. But honestly, I love and read so many, I cannot choose just a few favorites. So here’s a virtual and imaginary hug to everyone reading, a special one for Narmadhaa, and lots of love! No questions asked 😉 

Eid

Its Eid today; that wonderful celebration where we round off a month of fasting by a day (or three) of feasting. It might just be my favorite day of the year: you fast every day for a month, from sun up to sunset, getting as close to God as humanly possible. More to the point, you get as close to humanity as humanly possible in this age of borders and divides. Those magnificent citadels we build, of wealth and possessions, are torn down with every passing hour, and by the time the sun sets, your walls have fallen down. And despite the racial and financial inequality that defines our world, and the sense of entitlement that defines our generation, in those precious moments of changing light, we are one of many. One with many.

If like many, you fail to understand the majesty and importance of organized religion, come to Pakistan in Ramazan. Never is it more beautiful than in the scorching days of summer Ramazan, and never will you get a truer idea of my people. Sure, there’s the stench of morning breath all the livelong day, the ferocious road rage of hungry fathers, and the righteous indignation of old women staring you down as you eat in public. But there is plenty of magic to make up for the misery. There’s being woken up at the crack of dawn by your brother flicking your nose, asking solicitously, ‘Did you want me to wake you up?’ There’s being told off by the cook as you try to get away with eating just a piece of toast for breakfast. There’s your father, waking up at 4 purely to force feed you parathas even though he isn’t going to fast himself. Mine is a staunch believer in self indulgence, who feels that God surely loves him too much to make him go hungry. His sizeable body is his personal temple, through which he glorifies God and His many blessings (such as the aforementioned parathas).

As the sun sets, the spell is cast. There are people standing out on the traffic lights, offering food to faster’s stuck in the evening traffic. There is the promise of meeting family and friends every evening as they gather around the table to break fasts with you. There are tables groaning with food, and my mother’s brilliant smile as her twenty somethings tuck into childhood classics like icecream sodas and fritters with childlike abandon.

Then there’s my personal little brand of magic. Ever since I started fasting, I also started appreciating how excessive my lifestyle was. Not because Pakistani food is particularly expensive to make, its probably the single cuisine that gives the most flavor and indulgence for the cheapest of ingredients. It was more a slow realization that even if we could easily afford them, having twelve dishes on the dinner table every night was not necessary. So every time its just me and my mom for Iftar, we skip the sunset feast and just have dinner instead. Or at least we intend to. But every single time we try to go without, food appears, almost magically, on our table. There’s a longstanding tradition you see, of sending delicacies over to your neighbors just before sunset, so they too can sample some of your feast while breaking their fast. And regardless of how stingy our neighbors may be on normal days (every time we go over with lemons that have fallen off their tree into our yard, they always accept them, instead of turning them away solicitously and telling us to keep them), they always send over food on the days we don’t cook ourselves. Now whether God showers them with bitter lemons to inspire this sudden outpouring of neighbourly feeling I will never know, and I don’t want to know either. Its my personal little brand of magic.

I used to have quite a lot of personal magic. I’ve gone through life feeling it was happening for me, not to me. And I’m not even talking about the big things, like winning the mom lottery, or being born in Lahore, or getting into Cambridge, or being 5 foot 8. Its the little things that made me feel special. Noticed by the big man upstairs. Case in point: as a child, everytime I would say out loud that I did not want an aunt to visit, they would always call and cancel. Sure, my father believes that’s more of me having a black tongue as opposed to being God’s favorite, but anyone who’s met his sisters will agree it was truly a blessing to be spared another heart-to-heart. Everytime I hummed a song, it would come on the radio. Everytime I wanted to eat something particular, my mom would end up maing it for dinner before I even asked. I wanted an incredible education, and Cambridge advertised a scholarship. I wanted a PhD, and three appeared. Everytime I went shopping, I would always find something I loved. Now that last one is another instance of where my blessings are my father’s misfortune, but hey. Life’s not fair.

A year ago, the balance started shifting. My wishes started getting denied, in the most spectacular of fashions. If I wanted to eat somewhere, the restaurant would close. I looked forward to a concert, and it rained the day of. I accepted a PhD, and the visa regulations changed. Life became decidedly less rosy. Less magical. And I wasn’t worried about the music or the takeout, I was worried because I felt the big guy upstairs was angry at me. There’s a couplet in the scripture which, loosely translated, reads, ‘We have put a wall in front of them, and a wall behind them, and a veil over their eyes. And we have left them.’ That’s what I felt like. Abandoned, alone, running into walls. Not just blind, but also invisible. I had been left alone.

That thought scared me more than any thwarted dream. Luckily though, I had a plan to deal with it. A plan to remember how very blessed I was, even on my worst days. And here is my advice for dealing with life: Count. Literally count your blessings. And that’s what I have done this last year. I count. On my fingers. Parents, family, eyesight, speech, legs, hands, a brain that hasn’t failed me yet. On most days, by the time you get to six blessings, all your problems feel pretty meaningless. On the worst days, count all the way upto ten. As long as you have two handfuls of blessings, you can deal with whatever shit hits the fan.

The last year has involved more counting than I care for, far too many days when I had to remind myself of the good stuff to deal with the bad. But still, I had more than enough blessings to count. Two handfuls of magic. And this last week, I have been getting some of the old, lost magic back. It started off with my songs playing on the radio again. We went to Tatton Park for the garden show, and the Brazilian band playing the closing ceremony asked the young lady with the long hair to stand and wave to the crowd. That was me, fyi. Apparently I look exactly like their manager, and so I got a song dedicated to me, and fifteen seconds of fame, no matter how fleeting and undeserved. We went to Manchester for dinner last night, thinking that my first Eid away from home would be on a Tuesday when we couldn’t go out of the city, so we might as well celebrate two days early. When we got to Manchester though, the Eid moon was sighted, so we ended up being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time as Eid festivities broke out around us. Finally, today we were in Morrisons, torturing ourselves by looking at all the microwave Indian meals we couldn’t buy. ‘Mumtaz’s chicken curry. Why couldn’t Mumtaz use halal chicken?’ I joked, pulling a long face as I turned over the packet in my hands. And would you believe it, there was a small sign on the front of the box. ‘Made from Halal chicken.’ Now, its not as blantantly magical as the doorbell ringing at sunset in Ramazan, but I’ll take it!

It’s my favorite month of the year, when the whole world seems as magical as life is. Its my favorite day of the year, where I feel like God sees me. And if you feel like no one sees you, might I suggest making a list? Count to ten. Six will do on most days, but ten on the worst. And given some time, a year in my case, you might get your mojo back! And on this most magical of days, here’s that most magical of phrases: Eid Mubarak!