Friday, December 31, 2010

Lessons learnt in time

Dear Readers,
I had been thinking about these things for a long time, and even wrote down a couple in my notebook, but I think the New Year's eve is the best time to put it all out there in writing. Some lessons may sound weird, others cliche, but bear with me if you can. I hope at least one or two of them make you think a bit, and that some might be useful in the coming years. I apologize in advance on any 'preachiness' you may encounter.
Here are some things I have learnt:

- Whatever happens, happens for the better. Not ‘best’.

- No matter how hard you try, there are still going to be a multitude of people upset with you for one reason or another. Just keep doing what you do.

- No two people have the same opinions on every matter.

- The story about a man traveling with his son and a donkey through various towns* is absolutely true. Whoever told this story was a genius.

- Also, the person who told the story about the blind men trying to describe an elephant by touch* was an even bigger genius than the previous one.

- Every lie you tell, will eventually find you one of these days in the worst circumstances. Hence, Honesty is always the best policy.

- People change. Not in drastic dramatic ways that make you shake your head in shock...but one slight change every minute of every day. 

- Integrity and sincerity is much more important than being correct or incorrect. If one is incorrect, but is completely sincere and steadfast in his/her belief, then he/she is a better person than someone who changes opinions as times change. The deeper the integrity, the more solid and strong the character of a person.

- It is better to be truly something, through and through: truly good, truly evil, truly sad, and truly crazy, than being halfway through everything.

- Those who have money may ‘have’ more, but those who have sense ‘enjoy’ more.

- Say it as it is. No other time will be provided to you in life, when you can stand and give your detailed speech to an attentive audience.

- The ‘truth’ may be controversial, upsetting and sound plain rude to people,  but speaking the truth and bearing the outcome of disapproval/discomfort is better than agreeing with the falsehoods being circulated in front of you. People may not like it- but at least you will make sure to wake up their conscience a little bit and be ashamed of themselves.

- Books are far better company than people.  But you are the best company you keep. Be interesting for your own sake.  Be more.

- Sadness makes a sensible person better. It makes an insensible git, more of an idiot.

- Being considerate towards other people does not guarantee reward, regard or acknowledgement. Sometimes it is even the gateway for emotional exploitation. Be prepared to bear with it.

- Some people are ‘outcasts’ for a reason. It’s good to be nice to them, but when the attention gets to their head, you should let them know what a favour you were doing in trying to include them in your life. If they get it, good for them. If they don’t, good for you.

- People who often don’t keep their words/promises are not good people. No matter how religious they are, and how sweetly they talk. Actions speak louder than words.

- Be sure to stop and acknowledge those people who made your life even a little bit better. Later on, these few acknowledgements will make you feel better.

- Forgive, but don’t forget your lesson.

- Never be a hypocrite. It will take a lot of effort to haul yourself over to one side of the situation, but do go over to one side. Decisions are almost never gain and gain situations.

- Being related by blood does not guarantee loyalty or companionship. In fact, nothing guarantees it. Unless you keep a pet.

- Apologies may make you sound stupid or desperate, but they cleanse your conscience. What the other person does with it is none of your business. They will pay for their lot.

- People who ‘do’ extra things in their lives, are more intelligent than anyone else.  A ‘one-track’ mind is equal to a ‘dull’ mind. Be interesting!

- Respect those who accept their mistakes. They are great people and few and far between.

- It is the hardest thing to do, but Give. Whatever you can, your time, your words, your emotions, your smiles. What you give, is truly what you have gained, even if it was totally lost on the person at the receiving end.

- There is more to people than their names, where they are from, what they do and their Facebook pages. ‘Know’ people when you have the chance.

- Good must defeat evil. Not in epic battles a la Lord of the Rings, but in real everyday life.  No heroes come and no angels descend to help you. You defeat evil, every time you see it.

- To ‘choose battles wisely’, doesn’t mean to turn a blind eye where it doesn’t concern you. Highlight the conflict, state clearly your stand, and make it obvious that you “choose” not to fight here.

-There is hope for humanity as long as there is hope for you being a better person than you presently are. If you stop now, the hope will diminish.

"For last year's words belong to last year's language, and next year's words await another voice" ~ T.S. Elliot

Hope you enjoy! And to each and every one of you I wish a Happy New Year!

(* famous folk stories told to me by my grandmother. Here is a link for the Donkey's tale, And here is another link about the Blind men and the Elephant told as a poem. )

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The love of God

a special poem by Dante Alighieri

The love of God, unutterable and perfect,
     flows into a pure soul the way that light
     rushes into a transparent object.
The more love that it finds, the more it gives
     itself; so that, as we grow clear and open,
     the more complete the joy of heaven is.
And the more souls who resonate together,
     the greater the intensity of their love,
     and, mirror-like, each soul reflects the other.

Happy Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How to be a better writer

Back after a month-long break!
So today, let me share with you an interesting article I 'stumbled upon' (oh yes, I got an account with StumbleUpon recently, been enjoying the stumbling experience). Here is the link: 10 things to do to become a better writer in 10 days Highly recommend reading the linked article before you read further.

Now I admit that sounds like a great article, and it looks great too, but I beg to differ from the writer in this case, most politely. Here's what I have to say about her 'tips':

1- Be a troll for one day, be obnoxious, get into fights online, and later SINCERELY apologize to each person.

I mean... really? Being a troll is certainly fun (I make sure to exercise my trolling capacity regularly, especially for dumb Y!Answers) but writing "I'm sorry guys, I was just practicing being a writer who gets bashed by the publisher..." will certainly make one sound a bit- balmy. Also, getting into fights online (esp. YouTube) will not improve your chances at being a writer. What it will improve is your expletive vocabulary with time.
And, go talk to somebody you have hurt? What if that somebody slams the door shut in your face? Is that insult enough to start thinking about being a writer? I hope so, you know. And no, I haven't destroyed my reputation with those who love me the most, or those I love the most. And I don't think writers destroy their reputation before attempting to get published.

2- Spend one whole day being silent.

 Hmm, I can imagine how that day will go... at most one can collect 5 embarrassing moments from such a day (when you are mumbling, pointing at things and looking ridiculous) to use in your next novel. Instead, I'd advise writers to be silent and observe, yes that's the keyword right there "observe". And don't take a silence vow... just be more attentive to your surroundings, be relaxed and you'd naturally learn to observe things in more detail.
Telling a beginner (in writing) that you have nothing important to say kind of defeats the purpose. Writers write because they have something to say.

3- Spend one day as a student of reality.

Every day is reality, if you wake up sane enough. So cut down on those drinks and weed... But I agree, taking a notebook and noting down the little things adds flavour and colour to a description. It also hones one's power for imagining details when you have to make them up yourself. Drunk Kitteh would make a really bad albeit entertaining story-teller. Meow.

4- Spend one day with the lyrics of your favourite songs. Take the lyrics, and annotate them with random bits of descriptions you see around you as you listen to the song.

Um, why? It will teach me 'sub-texts'. Not necessarily. If I follow the said example, and I'm listening to .. say Green Day's Wake me up when September ends... and I see a guy slip and fall on the ice outside, how does that give me sub-text? Or, when my aunt's talking on the phone and deciding which day would be the best for the Plumber to come and check our kitchen sink... does that link at all with the song? And finally, I hate ginger... and that's what I kind of smell sitting in the kitchen, listening to '...bring out the bells again.... like we did when spring began....' does that even make sense? no... i think the ginger stink is getting to me.

5- Spend one day writing and re-writing a scene. From different angles, with the same characters, over and over again. Like do this please ok? Other wise you can't get out of this dismal detention. No, writing doesn't have to be a chore, it doesn't have to be so well-thought out, so well-measured, so perfectly laid-out like a chess board. Writing can be as quirky, fun, and biased as you want it to be. It can be as crazy as you are, because when you write, you pour a part of yourself onto the ink and paper. If writing for you is this much hard-work, maybe you are too artificial to actually be a writer.

6- Spend one day on research.

 Yes, I agree. Not just one day. Every day! To be the best writer you can be, you have to be a better reader first. Read read and read. Only that will teach you how to write. And researching articles and jamming up random info in one day will not help. Your normal common sense, and day to day knowledge that you acquire will give you the fuel to write. And writing an essay proving yourself wrong? have too much time on your hands? The power of Einstein's Tongue compels you!

7- Spend one day watching children.

Ahm... how about remembering your own self as a child? I find that the most inspiring of all things. Childhood is 'wonder' personified, not confusion. What is the author of this article thinking? Children are confused? No way... they're having the time of their lives! and just to remind the readers, children are actually the best story-tellers out there.

8- Spend one day crying.

 My God, this article is getting from bad to worse. Yeah, imagine Jane Austen crying her heart out over all her sewing things in the parlour, or J.K. Rowling bawling at a cafe on a snowy evening. But to see Charles Dickens howling before the pen and paper, or Tolkien sobbing away in his library as a writer's ritual is absolutely hilarious... maybe I should write about that.
Oh, and go out and punch a tree, and feel sorry for yourself. I think the only author who might actually do this is Stephanie Meyer. This punching a tree and crying will make you a highly courageous being, who can conquer any fiction/non-fiction nonsense in a matter of minutes, making Scholastic and Barnes-Noble bow down before you... All Hail! the tree-punching sobbing idiot!
Not impressed? the author of the article reminds us at this point, that we'd better find a job instead. It sounds.... Ironic.

9- Spend one day laughing at everything.

At the end of the day, make your family shake their head and talk about all the weird drugs you may be on. Better still, wear your slimiest hairstyle, don't wash your face, and walk out the door in your old sneakers. Point and laugh at everything. Gather leaves in a plastic bag and run after cars on the street. When the police finally get you, admit to being practicing a new technique to improve your writing skills. Finish your novel in jail or a mental institution (the most notorious environments for producing great works of art). Good Luck!

10- Spend one whole day being grateful.

If you haven't followed the author's tips, and are still confident of your writing abilities, be grateful. If you followed the 10 day crash course, and have survived the final crash... be grateful. If you're out of jail/mental institution, be grateful. My last piece of advice is NOT go up to people you love and talk to them about being glad of candles and nail clippers. Remember, you were supposed to be grateful for being out of psychiatric care.
Put your hand to your head and say... I still have a brain there somewhere, and a bit of common sense. I will tell the world anything and everything, true or untrue, reality or fantasy, my dreams or their dreams... I will tell it all, unformatted, un-measured, unedited - just as mad, crazy and confused as I want it to.

P.S. Since I've only known the 90's and 2000's, the 70's underwear reference is obsolete. Thanks.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Iqbal's Message

Create a place for yourself in the land of Passion,
Create a new age, a new day, a new eve.

If God grants you a heart full of understanding of Nature,
Create dialogue with the silence of flowers in bloom.

Do not greed for the West’s gleaming crystals,
Create the wine and cup from your own land.

I’m a branch of grape, the fruit is my poetry,
Create your life-blood, your red wine, from this fruit.

My way is not of worldly wealth, but that of a selfless dervish,
Sell not your Self - win your Name in hardship, in poverty.  

Iqbal, the poet of the East, was born on November 9th, 1877, and is known the world over for his inspiring poetry that celebrates Independence, Rationality, and Thoughtful existence as the essence of Life. He was knighted for his collection of poetry called the Asrar-e-Khudi.  This piece is translated from a poem he wrote to his son, describing the path he should follow. This message is sadly lost on the new generation. 
Read more about Iqbal, the poet and philospher:

Original Urdu Ghazal (Javed ke Naam, by Iqbal)

دیار عشق میں اپنا مقام پیدا کر
نیا زمانہ ، نیی صبح و شام پیدا کر

خدا اگر دل فطرت شناس دے تجھ کو
سکوت لالہ و گل سے کلام پیدا کر

اٹھا نہ شیشہ گران فرنگ کا احسان 
سفال ہند سے مینا و جام پیدا کر

میں شاخ تاک ہوں، میرا ثمرہے میری غزل 
میرے ثمر سے مے لالہ فام پیدا کر

میرا طریق امیری نہیں فقیری ہے
خودی نہ بیچ، غریبی میں نام پیدا کر

Friday, October 29, 2010

Treasures beyond all beauty

Today, I received a delightful poem from the Poetry Chaikhana, written by a 6th Century Syrian Monk, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite:

Lead us up beyond unknowing and light,
up to the farthest, highest peak,
of mystic scripture,
where the mysteries of God's word,
lie simple, absolute and unchangeable,
in brilliant darkness of a hidden silence.

Amid the deepest shadow,
they pour overwhelming light,
on what is most manifest.

Amid the wholly unsensed and unseen
they completely fill our sightless minds,
with treasure beyond all beauty.

What can I say about the beauty and calming influence of these words? It seems like a heartfelt prayer sent above. The result is indeed a treasure beyond all beauty.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lost in flight, I remain

I need a lover and a friend,
All friendships you transcend-
And impotent, I remain

You are Noah and the Ark
You are the light and the dark-
Behind the veil, I remain

You are passion and are rage
You are the bird and the cage-
Lost in flight, I remain

You are the wine and the cup 
You are the ocean and the drop-
While afloat, I remain

I said, "O Soul of the world
My desperation has taken hold!"
"I am thy essence," without scold,
"Value me much more than gold."

You are the bait and the trap
You are the path and the map-
While in search, I remain

You are poison and the sweet
You are defeated and defeat-
Sword in hand, I remain

You are the wood and the saw
You are cooked, and are raw-
While in a pot, I remain

You are sunshine and the fog
You are water and the jug-
While thirsty, I remain

Sweet fragrance of Shams that is,
The joy and pride of Tabriz-
Perfume trader, I remain.

Jelaluddin Rumi 
حادثہ وہ جو ابھی پردۂ افلاک میں ہے
عکس اس کا میرے آئینہ ادراک میں ہے
نہ ستارے میں ہے نہ گردش افلاک میں ہے
تیری تقدیر میرے نالہ بیباک میں ہے
یا میری آہ میں کوئی شرر زندہ نہیں
یا ذرا نم ابھی تیری خس و خاشاک میں ہے
کیا عجب میری نوا ہاے سحر گاہی سے
!زندہ ہو جائے وہ آتش کہ تیری خاک میں ہے
!توڑ ڈالے گی یہی خاک طلسم شب و روز
...گرچہ الجھی ہوئی تقدیر کے پیچاک میں ہے
حادثہ وہ جو ابھی پردۂ افلاک میں ہے
-عکس اس کا میری آئینہ ادراک میں ہے
اقبال ~


An incident which is still shrouded in the skies
is reflected in the mirror of my surroundings

neither is it in star nor in orbits of the sky
but your fortune is ever-present in my bold cry

either my sigh holds but not a single flame
or there is some damp still within your soul

no wonder if, by my clear voice at dawn
awakes that flame deep within your earth

this very earth shall break the monotony of day and night
even though it's still in a tangle of your destiny...
an incident is still shrouded in the skies,
and is mirrored in my surroundings.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A poem by Tagore

I wish to share a short poem by Rabindranath Tagore. It has been stored too long in my memory, and too long in my .doc files...

Sit Smiling (translated from Bengali to english, originally published in Geetanjali-poetry collection)

I boasted among men that I had known you
they see your pictures in all works of mine,
they come and ask me "Who is he?"
I know not how to answer them.
I say, "Indeed I cannot tell."
They blame me and go away in scorn.
- and You sit there smiling.

I put my tales of you into lasting songs.
the secret gushes out from my heart.
they come and ask me, "tell us all your meanings!"
I know not how to answer them.
I say, "Ah! who knows what they mean!"
they smile and go away in utter scorn.
- and You sit there smiling.

In my imagination, the narrator shapes and moulds figures in clay. In all his clay figures, in all his work, people see a glimpse of something. Something bordering on the mystical. Indeed, he cannot tell what it is or what it means. Just my interpretation.

Rabindranath Tagore was born in 1861 in Calcutta (British India), and is remembered for his awe-inspiring poetry and literary masterpieces in the Bengali language. His collection of songs- the Geetanjali, won the Nobel prize for literature in 1913. All his poems are an ode to love, life, joy and sorrow, through their simple words and musical mysticism.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Washed Away - a short-story*

Rahmat watched the torrential rains fill up his small yard, and by evening, the water seeped inside his mud house. The river got higher and higher, and flowed right over his crop and his land. He tried to tie and lead his two cows to safety, but one of the cows slipped and was washed away, the other refused to move against the water's flow. He had no choice but to leave it where it was. His wife and his children packed up what they could, some dry bread and fruits and what little money they had, hauled it over their 'charpai' (a poor man's bed) and waded through the raging muddy water. When they reached the higher ground, they were drenched to their skin, as were the others who had camped there for safety. Rahmat haggled with a few local men to get a piece of canvas, and tried to make a small tent with it, with what little skill and help he had with his son. His wife and the kids placed the charpai and their two packs of belongings underneath, and sat helpless...staring as their entire village sank into the river. 

At night, they only had a bite of bread with some fruit, and they starved the next morning. The kids were cold and wet, and had no change of clothes. The mother tried her best to keep them warm inside the tent. Some other tent neighbours had managed to get a gas-lamp for some heat and cooking. She looked imploringly at Rahmat, but he had no means to get a gas-lamp for them. Some helicopters flew overhead, and dropped food packs from time to time. Meanwhile, some local men were busy hacking and hammering away the 'bunds' (or the breaks lining the river which was gushing towards the big palace "Haveli" of the local Feudal Lord "wadera") in their effort to try and divert the flow towards what was left of the drowning village. The local men were getting paid by the Wadera, and by evening they could afford to pay for a gas-lamp and some more bread. But their own village had completely disappeared, while the towering Haveli was intact. The Wadera Sahib decided to leave the village, as his purpose here was accomplished - his Haveli was safe, while his poor farmers were homeless.

He arrived in the big city, and was interviewed by a local channel. He explained the extent of damage in his area, the whole village has disappeared, he said. And the people have no food no water, nothing. We need help. His plea was repeated by other Waderas (who had just finished saving their palaces by drowning the locals), and was magnified 10 times over to reach the ears of the remaining country-men. People in cities, feeling sad and distressed for their fellow citizens, poured their money out into the 'relief camps'. Some people, fearing Allah in the month of Ramadan, and how He knows that their latest income comes from corrupt means, decided to placate Allah by donating a fraction of the 'haraam' income into the 'relief'.

Usman Khan was busy lecturing on the politics of the country in USA, when he heard the sad news about his hometown being submerged in the flood. His secretary assured him that all the 'bunds' forcing the water towards his Haveli were broken, so that the water could flow easily into the poor farmer's land, and his Haveli was safe. Usman Khan immediately thanked his secretary, and embarked upon a humanitarian quest to acquire as much aid as he could, while he was still outside his country. He pleaded on TV, and his many admirers and fans, pledged money in foreign currency to his account, and felt that they had atleast done their little part to help those poor people. He made sure that a chunk of that money was immediately used to buy food and clothes and medicines for the flood affectees, while the rest of that money was conveniently left in the bank to gain some interest. Ofcourse, interest (sood) is Haraam, of course, yes it is. That is why I have an account with the Islamic banks, he explained. They only give some 'profit' on the money, that isn't interest.

Gonglo Nawab also decided to make several appearances on tv, condemning the present government for their mismanagement, and went to visit several people injured in the floods and shook hands with them. Later, he washed his hands carefully off the matter, and used a ready hand-sanitizer. His brother and himself were invited to a big Iftaar party soon after, and he should have his hands clean for some digging-in to the samosas and aloo-chat.

The Army were required to pull out people from their rooftops, and throw packs of food to those that could not be helped immediately. The Army was also getting a beating from the government for not mobilizing all the helicopters and all the boats and hovercrafts. But, we don't know how to use those helicopters yet, and the guy who knows how to work those hovercrafts is on vacations to the UK right now, sir, - said the Army. The world must help us with Helicopters and boats!
The Army was also getting stretched in the opposite direction, trying to fight the terrorists, and yet save their brothers from the flood. It is indeed like walking on a tight-rope.

The government was trying not to look too much like beggars, and yet, that was what their 'duty' was at the moment. The aid was coming in slowly, and the beggars had to explain to all and sundry that: no, we will make sure every cent goes to the poor, we promise not to take even a little bit for ourselves. You can come and check my pockets, sir, said the government. Just ignore my bank account in Switzerland, and some property in France and UK, and other places. Now that is my hard-earned rip-off. 

People sitting far away in their drawing-rooms clucked with pity at the scenes shown on TV. Some showed off their wealth and 'humanity'/'religiosity' by telling all who would listen how much they had donated to such and such charity. Some people wrote amazing articles on blogs, newspapers and other places on the internet. A handful of genuine charities tried their hardest to reach the worst hit areas, but couldn't get any further. The rains lashed on, and the flooding rivers did not subside. Half the country was drowning, and yet the terrorists sat together in their caves, and planned to blow up more mosques, more Shias, more Kaafirs disguised as women and children in busy bazaars shopping for Eid, or disguised as Red Cross/UN aid workers. Allah will grant them Paradise for recognizing the Kaafir and the Shaitaan, and blowing themselves up to kill it. 
More foreign celebrities displayed their perfect acting skills, and pleaded for money. More self-righteous people loosened their change. More angry people slammed the relief efforts. Why should we save those people? They're brothers with the terrorists!!! Better nuke them all.

All this time, Rahmat sat under his make-shift home, trying to avoid the helpless eyes of his wife, and the shivering kids. They had had two packets of food from the helicopters (the first he had ever seen in his life), and they had soon been interviewed by a professional looking man who spoke flawless urdu, and told them he was coming on Television. Rahmat didn't know what to say, when the man asked him how he felt. Some people, wearing badges of a political party also came to shake hands and take pictures with Rahmat and his neighbours, and they handed them tokens for 'food rations' at their camp some miles away. Rahmat went to get the food in the evening, and they had a hot meal. At night, more thunder and rains caused the Television man and the Political party people to flee the area. Rahmat had two tokens left but nowhere to get the food. 

When the rivers finally quieten down, he and his neighbours will try and re-build what was lost. He will need to ask for a loan from the big Haveli-owner, the Wadera "feudal lord", so that he could buy bricks and one cow. He will spend his whole life trying to repay that loan. His children will not go to school. No more helicopters will fly over-head. No relief camps would come back, to help build his little mud house. No foreign aid-worker will shake hands with him and pose for the camera. He won't be interviewed for the local TV. The terrorists will come down from the mountains, shaking their AK-47s and Rahmat would pull in his children, and lock his door for fear. They will shower bullets over their town, and shriek and scream. His wife's eyes will fill with tears at the gun-shots, and Rahmat would sit alert and frightened, as the terrorists finally leave the village. The Wadera will invite the terrorists for a "talk" inside his big Haveli, and broker a deal with the terrorists and the government, or Usman Khan, or Gonglo Nawab, or any body else, willing to deal. 

Deals that are of no concern to Rahmat. And comments on the Internet, that do not concern him. And the donated money sitting in Islamic Banks gathering 'profits', that are not his concern. And the world will forget Rahmat one day. 

*entirely a work of fiction.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Grief-stricken countrymen to pay London hotel rent

Last week was one of the worst for the people of Pakistan. 152 people died in an unfortunate plane crash at the Margalla Hills just as the plane was about to land at Islamabad airport. The shock and grief of losing loved ones wasn't even over when the country got hit by the worst monsoon rains and floods, breaking a 90 year old record. So far 400-500 people have lost their lives, and around 600,000 are displaced/injured.

On top of that, the British PM made some controversial and unsettling remarks about the war on terror and Pakistan's role in "exporting terrorism" while on his visit to India. Some of his words are actually insulting to the efforts of the Pakistan Army, and the sacrifice of the civilians of Swat and Waziristan region who have suffered for years due to the armed conflict between the army and the militants, and also US drone attacks.

What's worst is that our dear President is due to visit the same British PM in a couple of days in the UK, where- according to news reports, suites in the most expensive hotel have been booked for his stay. And who pays for his air-fare, and his luxurious suites? Why, the grief-stricken, flood-affected, homeless, distressed people of his poor third-world country of course! I mean, why not? He's our Mr. President, right? He's upholding our "democracy", right?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Synonyms for chaos

I think the word "chaos" occurs quite a lot in my posts. I'm trying to analyse why.

I often have this nagging feeling inside, as if things are happening too fast, too slow, too randomly, to make any sense. Being so connected with the multimedia has lead to this sort of ... overwhelming amount of information, and I wonder if one brain just gives up? And what about information that has an effect on how one feels? Information that is emotionally charged, and higher than normal doses of such, will be bad for mental health. This much I know. But I still can not distance myself from the various sources with such info. Where can I go, o modern world...with the cell phones, the internet, the satellite televisions...?

When these things seem to rush at me all at once, and I can't even catch my breath, I often ask myself...what does it feel like right now? Answer: Chaos.

Everything is chaotic. From the weather, to family, to life, to television, to news, to political conferences that make my heart beat 10 times faster with the implied threats, to health issues, to emotions, to the flooding in some areas of my country, to the people who make random narrow-minded remarks, to the ever-growing religious fundamentalism everywhere. So right now, it is chaos. Utter confusion. Bedlam. Turmoil. Unrest. Lawlessness. Disorder.

I pray for some peace and quiet. For the sake of sanity.

Friday, July 23, 2010


It's strange how in my country, it only takes 2 rainy days to kill 43 people.
It only takes one storm to flood the plains in Punjab, leading to a significant crop destruction = hunger and starvation = more deaths that are too unimportant to report.
It only takes a handful of evil motorbikers to kill more than 200 people in about 2 months in target killings across Karachi.
It only takes 2 people with weapons to close down shops and businesses, and to create an atmosphere of fear and suspicion throughout the area.
Strange how we haven't ever been struck by war or occupation, but our people suffer day and night.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Samad et son pousse pousse

I know the title sounds funny. Although 'pousse pousse', in my opinion, seems a more befitting name for the atomizer attached to some luxueus perfume bottle, in French it actually refers to our very own "Rickshaw". 'Pappu' with his pousse pousse anyone?

Today I was watching an entertaining documentary on a cable channel from back home, which was documenting and appreciating the amount of rickshaw and truck "art" and "poetry" that we take for granted in our society. I had a really good time reminiscing about blue rickshaws thuk-thukking about the busy (and hot) streets, trying to squeeze into the smallest area available between two cars, and their dire warning for those driving behind them "pass kar, warna bardasht kar" (something like: either pass me, or bear me thuk-thukking in front of you) in flowery script atop a thickly kohl-lined painted eye (kajrare naina). Aah! rickshaw art, and their amusing attempts at poetry.... "Kabhi aao na Sargodha, surma lagakey!" (not translating this :P)

I was reminded of a very strange occurrence one hot day, several years ago, when my mother and I had decided to go to a market nearby to get something. My mother was having a hard time maneuvering the car among the collective chaos of rickshaws, motorbikes and random people, when a blue rickshaw suddenly decided to block our path head-on. Mother's instinctive reaction: angry outburst at the driver for not noticing this big red car in front of you, daring to drive on the wrong side of the road...are you really blind, rickshaw-walah?

The rickshaw driver caught my eye and gave me a big boyish smile. I recognized him instantly. His rickshaw wasn't overly decorated (as is the norm), it was quite used, with peeling blue paint, and the rickshaw-walah was thinner and shabbier than I'd last seen him. But he had the same smile, and the same nod, and the same wave. He grinned at my mom and me, and then backed his rickshaw into the chaos, and was lost amongst it.

Mother parked the car, and tried to find him among the other blue rickshaws, but we never did.
We didn't speak about it until we were driving home. "It was Samad, can you believe it? Driving a rickshaw?"

Many years ago, for some strange reason, or most probably because my Mother wanted me to, I was enrolled in French classes for the summer at the Alliance Francaise institute. Our teacher was amazing, I made great friends, one of them actually got married soon after and we even got invited, we played table-tennis endlessly during those days, and Samad was our favourite guy. He'd come from a small town near Peshawar (northern province of Khyber) after completing his 10th grade, to look for work in Karachi. A French lady, working as the director of the Alliance Francaise in those days, had taken him in as a doorman and assistant, and Samad had consequently picked up fluent French and broken English, without paying a cent. He was our "Guard" (in Karachi, almost all official buildings and even residences have such guards who own Kalashnikovs for safety purposes), our table-tennis tutor, our unofficial French tutor, and our very own tea-maker. Also, a gardener and the sole caretaker of the 30+ Australian parrots that were living as decorative pets at the institute. Samad and his parrots entertained the staff, the students, the parents, and the members. Occassionally, university students dropped by for a game or two and to chat with Samad, the French pathan of Karachi.

He was quite young, as my mother often said, and quite intelligent. Which was why he picked up the language so fast, he could even read the French magazines, while we would stare at pages trying to make sense of the headings and captions. In his spare time, Samad liked to sing songs in Pushto and French (which he had learned from the French tv in the AF lounge), cook in his kitchenette, and then clean his Kalashnikov. He was quite an interesting person, and a great friend to all. He was highly in-demand around exam-time, as he could help out with almost all the pronunciations and the grammar, not to mention his free tea was a great refreshment.

One day, some religious fundamentalists went on a rampage around the area, burning and attacking buildings they considered were "Western" influences - or maybe they were trying to pretentiously protest yet another something, and the AF building was obviously targeted. I had finished my course a long time ago, and hardly visited the area, and it was quite some time before I realized that the AF institute had closed down (and that it's windows were smashed, and the main-gate was charred). I wondered where everyone might have gone. I thought about Samad sometimes, when I really missed French songs and early morning table-tennis.

Never did I imagine that Samad, our French pathan of Karachi, would be forced to become just another rickshaw-walah roaming the hot and humid streets. When people would wave his rickshaw down for hire, and tell him where to go, they wouldn't even have an inkling about what this ordinary rickshaw-walah sweating in the heat with flushed cheeks actually was: a brilliant table-tennis player, an excellent gardener, and a most amazing French-speaker. Has he forgotten his earlier life? Or maybe, he entertains his passengers still, by singing in french, and writing amusing statements in french on his rickshaw? I honestly hope, that Samad chose the latter outcome.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The dream

One early morning,

A dream knocked on my door,

And opening it, I saw...

Some guests had come from across the border.

They looked very familiar,

Their words were well-known, and their voices heard before,

I lead them inside to wash away the dirt from their travel,

And made them sit in my orchard,

I offered them some corn bread, fresh from my oven,

And they had brought me some molasses,

Made from last-year's sugarcane crop.

And then as I woke up, I saw...

There was no one at home.

When I touched the oven, it was still warm,

And the sweetness of the molasses,

Was still there upon my lips.

Must be a dream, must have been a dream,

At the border last night, I've heard there was some cross-fire.

At the border last night, I've heard some dreams were killed.

By: S. Gulzar

Translated by me.

Original urdu:

...صبح صبح، اِک خواب کی دستک پر دروازہ کھولا، دیکھا

صرحد کے پار سے کچھ مہمان آئے تھے

آنکھوں سے مانوس تھے سارے چہرے سارے سُنے سُنائے

پاؤں دھوئے، ہاتھ دھُلائے، آنگن میں آسن لگوائے

اور تندوُر پہ مکئ کے کچھ موٹے موٹے روٹ پکوائے

پوٹلی میں مہمان میرے پچھلے سالوں کی فصلوں کا گُڑ لائے تھے

...آنکھ کھُلی تو دیکھا گھر میں کوئ نہیں تھا

ہاتھ لگا کے دیکھا تو تندوُر ابھی تک بُجھا نہیں تھا

!اور ہونٹوں پہ میٹھے گُڑ کا ذائقہ اب تک چپک رہا تھا

خواب تھا شاید، خواب ہی ہو گا

صرحد پر کَل رات سُنا ہے چلی تھی گولی

...صرحد پر کَل رات سُنا ہے کچھ خوابوں کا خون ہوا

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A poem by Faiz

I translated this piece by the famous poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and shared it with my friends on Facebook (around November last year) on his death anniversary. I would like to re-post it here too:

We will see,
certainly, we will also see,
that Day which is promised,
the Day that is written in the book of Eternity.

When mountains high of cruelty and oppression,
will fly away like wisps of cotton,
when the ground under our feet,
will shudder and shake,
On the heads of the rulers that day,
the thunder shall find its way.

From the Centre of God's land,
every idol will be thrown out,
and we, the faithful, forbidden in "sacred" halls,
shall enter in triumph,
When the crowns will be tossed in air,
and the thrones will sink to dust.

Only the name of God shall remain,
Who is Unseen, yet Omnipresent.
Who is the Beholder, and yet the Beheld.
"I am the Truth!"- shall be the motto,
which is both You as well as Me,
And the People will freely rule this world,
which is both You as well as Me.
~ Original Urdu: Faiz
Translated by: Hareem =)

Original ghazal in Urdu:

Hum dekhenge
Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge
Wo din ke jis ka wada hai
Jo lauh-e-azl mein likha hai

Jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-garan
Rooi ki tarah ur jaenge
Hum mehkoomon ke paaon tale
Ye dharti dhar dhar dharkegi
Aur ahl-e-hakam ke sar oopar
Jab bijli kar kar karkegi

Jab arz-e-Khuda ke kaabe se
Sab but uthwae jaenge
Hum ahl-e-safa mardood-e-harm
Masnad pe bethae jaenge
Sab taaj uchale jaenge
Sab takht girae jaenge

Bas naam rahega Allah ka
Jo ghayab bhi hai hazir bhi
Jo manzar bhi hai nazir bhi
Utthega an-al-haq ka nara
Jo mai bhi hoon tum bhi ho
Aur raaj karegi Khalq-e-Khuda
Jo mai bhi hoon aur tum bhi ho

Friday, July 9, 2010

The death of imagination

I've been trying to re-read the last Harry Potter book, as I've read all the previous 6 of them at least 5 times each, but I didn't have the heart to pick up Deathly Hallows again after the first time I read it. I know several people think HP is a childish read (and maybe surprised by this sudden shift from the usual Sufi to Harry Potter), but I believe it proves to be pure entertainment. Especially for someone who met Harry & co at 11 years of age, and grew up with the series. And also, it fares far far better than the commercial, mindless trash being churned out for our "young readers" now a days... sad indeed.

For example, Hermione Granger, the intelligent, honest and strong-willed protagonist is slowly being replaced by a dull, mumbling paper-doll by the name of "Bella" via modern fiction popular among the female youth (i.e. brains are no longer in vogue, you get the *Sparkling* guy if you act like a dumb damsel in distress, yeah right...)

I'm also furious about the fact that modern media is slowly hacking away at all remnants of "imagination" in our younger generation. Previously, reading a work of fiction provided a rich source of ideas/descriptions with which each reader could imagine and shape the characters/places. This capability of thinking and 'creating' an image on the hypothetical "screen" inside our heads, was crucial for developing and understanding abstract ideas. It was also highly beneficial for the creative power of the brain. This exercise lead to greater potential for creativity in an individual at an early age.

Today, the youth hardly bothers to pick up a book. Why waste days/nights trying to read a book, "think and try to imagine" the scene/characters, when you can buy a $12 ticket to watch everything already done for you on-screen with stereo sound and digital images and the plot compressed in 2 hours or less?

They say... "we live in a fast-paced modern world, everything available at your fingertips!"
I see, and also one in which we spoon-feed our youth using the "screens" at home, and the "screens" at the cinema? oh yeah... surround-sound and 3-d anyone?

But what about that absolutely essential "screen" inside your brain? the screen so important for creativity? for developing ideas, working out solutions, and absolutely indispensable for our cognitive superiority as a species? Bah!... who cares? here we go, Harry Potter coming out in November.

Thousands of screaming fans will flock to the cinema to watch a 2-hours, mashed-up, edited, awkwardly disjointed storyline sadly lacking the wit and passion of the actual thing. I can guarantee a major chunk of these unfortunate souls have never had the delight of reading and imagining the details of the HP world: of meeting Nearly-Headless Nick, the excitement of each goal scored by Gryffindor against Slytherin as announced by Lee Jordan, giggling away at Peeves, or suppressing silent laughter at the outlandish "passwords" for the common rooms at Hogwarts. These poor sad souls, alas... only able to pay up $12 for a two-hour cinematic adventure in 3-D, far less exciting than the free adventure they could create for themselves on their own.

The same trend can be seen in other 'virtual' tech gadgets. E.g., where people were supposed to play- "physically" play- games such as tennis etc... you've got the "Nintendo Wii". So they're "pro" tennis players but only by expertly swinging that white remote. And while children, when visiting family, used to run about and light up the house by their chatter, now they sit quietly in a corner, their eyes glued to the abomination called Nintendo DS...too busy shooting aliens on a double-screen to look up and really live their childhood.

As for the other virtual reality/video games, I hold very similar negative views. I was shocked to see, a couple of days ago, the imagery of games such as Modern Warfare (and whatever-else-they-are-called, I'm not researching their names...such pitiful filth) and I found them to be pretty racist and disgusting. There was even a 'nice' extended scene where you could further destroy a dreary, burning city already in ruins... a city very thoughtfully called "Karachi". The person who uploaded the excellent "scene" from this video game on youtube, wrote in his comments that he wasn't aware that Karachi was an actual place. Another young gentleman replied something along the lines of 'Karachi was bombed by the US during the Afghanistan war 2001 and nothing much remains of the place'. Such pearls of wisdom! I can only stand up and clap with merriment at this feat achieved by 'modern' visual media!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Friend, this is the only way...

Here is a letter I received today:

Hi Hareem -

Yesterday, I was driving home from work, listening to BBC news on the radio, and was saddened to hear of a bombing at a shrine dedicated to another Sufi saint in Lahore, Pakistan. More than 40 people were killed and many more badly injured. I haven't heard a definite explanation for why the bombing occurred there, but people are speculating that it was a bombing by an extremist group who object to the inclusive nature of Sufi practice in the region.

Each culture, each tradition has its violent extremists. We have Christian extremists in the West, particularly in the US, where I live. We have Jewish extremists in Israel and other places. Islamic extremists have certainly grabbed headlines in recent years. There are Hindu extremists in India. Extremism is not a problem of a particular religion, it is a disruption in the human psyche in general.

Religious extremism has very little to do with religion, if you think about it. It's partly a reflexive response to the intensely fragmenting nature of the modern world. And it's partly a reaction against the unavoidable, sometimes unsettling encounters with different peoples and cultures and beliefs in our ever-more integrated and multi-layered world. But mostly-- mostly it is an act of desperation when the heart of true religion has been lost. People become violently obsessed with rules and traditions and texts only when they have lost the sense of what they really point to.

If you know where the Beloved lives, you are content, no need to argue with others over street names. Conflict only arises when you aren't so certain you know the way; that's when another person's map threatens your certainty. Fundamentalism and extremism are an admission of that spiritual uncertainty. Absolutism is not an expression of faith, it is a symptom of a lack of faith. It is a symptom of the lack of true spiritual experience and knowledge.

The real long-term solution to the problem of violent religious extremism in the world is to reawaken that sweet, secret, sacred bliss within ourselves, to gently and generously share it with others, to create environments conducive to that continuing quest. The more we fill the world's dry troughs with fresh water, the less likely it is that people will go insane with blind thirst.


So, in affirmation and solidarity with the Sufi community in Pakistan, I thought I'd send out a poem by another Sufi saint from the region today...

The name Sachal Sarmast can be translated as Ecstatic Saint of Truth. He is sometimes called Sachoo, The Truthful.

Sachal Sarmast was born in the Sindh region of what is today Pakistan, and is considered one of the great poets and Sufi mystics to emerge from the region.

Rather than blindly following tradition, Sachal urged people to seek the truth directly. And like ibn Arabi and others, Sachal Sarmast taught a vision of Unity called Wahdat al-Wujud, which others have compared to the great nondualist teachings of Advaita Vedanta within Hinduism and Zen/Chan within Buddhism.

Sachal Sarmast once said, "He (God) is everywhere and in each and every phenomenon. He has come here just to witness His own manifestation."

Sachal Sarmast was born Abdul Wahab in the village of Daraza in the Sindh region. His father died when he was a young child, and Abdul Wahab was raised by his uncle, who also became his spiritual master.

His soul was deeply moved by music. Listening to music, he was often enraptured, tears pouring down his face.

Sachal Sarmast married, but the young woman died two years later. He never remarried.

He took the name Sachal, Truth. Later people added Sarmast, Leader of the Ecstatics, to his name in appreciation of his spiritual poetry.

Sachal Sarmast lived a humble, ascetic life, preferring solitude, simple meals of daal and yogurt. It is said that he never left Daraza, the village of his birth. Yet he composed sacred poetry in seven different languages, poetry that is loved and sung to this day.


Sending much love!

(Poetry Chaikhana)

"Friends, this is the only way" by Sachal Sarmast (1739-1829) ~translated by Ivan Granger

Friend, this is the only way
to learn the secret way:

Ignore the paths of others,
even the saints' steep trails.

Don't follow.
Don't journey at all.

Rip the veil from your face.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lost souls on the Subway trains

Subway trains in Toronto are a unique experience, especially for someone who has never seen one in their life before (me). They dip in and out of the ground, they screech when travelling past dark bends, and you can never feel how fast they are moving (until they abruptly stop and you get the inertia jerk). Subway trains are also a very interesting place to observe society. As any sociologist will tell you, each cabin on the train carries people from all walks of life (well, not All...almost all), and in a diverse city like Toronto, it also means people from all around the world. Sitting shoulder to shoulder in such a small place, bumping into each other at the slightest brake at rush hour, holding the same steel bars as a person from a totally different continent, and hearing all types of languages, it is indeed a rich treasure of sociological knowledge.

Although I could keep writing an essay about how amazing it is to travel in one of these, and discuss all the cultures, sub-cultures and fashion cliches I've encountered and so on, so forth...I want to share the story of two very interesting characters I met on the subway.

First I must explain this: As part of being acclimatized to the normal urban Canadian life, I have learned to adhere to the following acceptable codes of behaviour when traveling by public transport:

1- Limit interaction with any fellow passengers, no friendly smiles, no greetings, no friendly everyday talk (what's the time? it's getting late...bad weather, etc.).
WARNING: At all costs, avoid acknowledging the existence of anybody who looks even slightly unusual (homeless people, too-much-tattoo people, yo-man type of people, gangsta people, loud people, and people of different races/ethnicities, and add-your-favourite-weirdos etc.).

2- Best to keep your eyes safely focused on the floor/stupid Pantene shampoo ad/ceiling/book, or pretend to sleep. Better still - wear dark glasses (bonus: you can stare at that old lady trying to fix her lipstick on a bumpy ride, without any trouble).

3- Putting in earphones with a blast of music is a great idea to accompany point No.2 (be careful though, you might miss your station).

4- Avoid getting up and offering your seat to another, more deserving passenger (look here and there to assure yourself that others are equally guilty - best way to learn how to put your conscience to sleep).

5- Do nothing to help anyone on your own initiative, even if they look like they really need it. Unless they look at you directly and ask. (kind of hard for them to do as you pretend to sleep while nodding your head to deafening drums).

Hmm, so I'm glad I cleared the above points... they are critical for understanding how I met the characters I want to talk about.

One day, while going home after a particularly tiring day at school, I was aboard a subway train that was repeatedly getting delayed. Finally, at one station notorious for providing the most shady-looking passengers (haha!) an old man boarded our cabin. He was short and stout, with white hair and gray eyes, wore a shabby jacket with a cap, and probably hadn't washed in days. What set him apart from most other shady homeless men, was his genuine friendly smile and a huge armload of LCBO plastic bags. He had maybe around a dozen or so bags on each arm, and they looked almost empty, but they were full of thin sheets of paper. His friendly smile and the way he walked to the seat on my side, immediately gave me the red alert. As I had learned, I quickly moved myself to the other edge of the seat (as far as I could go without bumping into the person beside me), and ignored him. In fact, I tried to pretend to sleep.
I was busy pretending to sleep when I heard a rustle of paper, and I looked up to see the old man holding up a folded piece of paper and snipping away at it with a small paper scissor in various angles and directions. I knew what he was doing, I loved to do it often too... making cut-out paper mats! I was amazed by his skill and talent, so much so that I forgot to avert my eyes and pretend to sleep again.

The man acknowledged my curiosity, and opened the folded paper flat for me to admire the design on the mat. None of us spoke, but I was completely in awe. He quickly pulled out another sheet of paper, folded it in various ways, and began snipping way...another design. Very carefully, he would put the folded and cut paper back into his LCBO plastic bag, without even bothering to open it and check how it turned out to be. I guessed he already knew what his designs looked like. My station was now fast approaching, when another lady leaned over and told him, "they are beautiful!". She was the only other human, in that cabin-full of people, who had seen and admired this. The rest were busy following the socially "acceptable" behaviour as outlined above.

The man smiled and thanked the lady, who asked why he was making so many of them. He replied he made them all to give to the sick children at the hospital. Finally, his station arrived. He held out his last snipped paper mat towards me, and I took it with a thank you smile. He also gave one to the lady, and walked out. I still have that paper-mat somewhere in my desk drawers. It made me very sad that day, that I had initially behaved like the ordinary "robots" I like to call the other passengers, I felt I had lost 'myself' trying to adhere to the acceptable laws. But I did not, and it makes a world of a difference.

Another morning, I was going to school, in the usual busy rush hours, when I met a second character. This person looked ill, (and a bit mentally deranged - so I tried to put the most distance between him and me) and he carried a big journal in his hands. He would occasionally flip it open with a smile, but then quickly close it. Finally, he took out a pen and started writing on a fresh page in the journal. Unable to overcome my curiosity (and nosiness) I side glanced to see what he was upto. He was writing a letter?

I remember it went something like "Dear XYZ, It has been long since I wrote to you, tomorrow I am going to the doctor .....". He kept on writing, until he turned the page over and I saw he had switched from writing prose to poetry: he wrote down a couple of verses, reaching around half the page, before he wrote something like " I really miss you, I wrote this poem for you, and I wish you could read it." and he ended his letter. When he was finished, a girl sitting on the other side asked him something (I couldn't hear), and he started to read aloud that poem. I don't recall the words, but it was mostly about spring, and I was deeply touched by the beauty of his words, they were very simple, but had deep meaning. I admired his poetry, and he was very visibly happy to have us both as his audience.

He told us further that he wrote these letters to his sister who had died some years ago, and she had been the only caretaker for him. He flipped his journal open to the first page, and pointing to the date he said his sister was severely ill then but she had encouraged him to start writing to her when she was still alive. He said something about I'm a bit sick in the head you know, it gets hard sometimes. He spoke so simply, so matter-of-factly, and most probably he didn't notice the effect this interaction had had on both of us. My station came so I rose to leave, and I remember saying something like Keep it up, I loved your poem. And I walked out, ofcourse...onto a busy platform where emotion-less people rush to conquer another day in this materialistic world, and where people like the poet I'd met are lost in this mad crowd.

I don't know why I remembered these two incidents so vividly among others. Maybe because they are proof that humanity isn't lost - not yet. And when I complain about how this place is a sad robotic utopia of sorts, I remember such lost souls, and I have hope that it isn't so. Perhaps, one day I'll meet another 'human' among the crowd of robots, and this time I'll be more welcoming.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Listeners

(One of my most favourite poems by Walter De La Mare. Best to read it in silence and contemplate.)

“Is anybody there?” said the Traveler,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in silence chomped the grasses,
Of the forest’s ferny floor.

And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the traveler’s head:
And he smote upon the door a second time;
“Is there anybody there?” he said.

But no one descended to the Traveler;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his gray eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.

But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To the voice from the world of men:

Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveler’s call.

And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;

For he suddenly smote the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:-
“Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,” he said.

Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:

Aye, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.
~Sir Walter De La Mare

So what exactly is this feeling of the existence of 'listeners' inside a surely empty place? I have felt it many times, as if they sit and wait, and hear and reply... with their silence.