Attached below is a video introduction link to “The Girl with the Paisley Dupatta”, the significance of the title and the recurrent themes that run through the stories.
Dear friends and family,
“The Girl with the Paisley Dupatta and other Stories” and “Curious Animals…” are NOW AVAILABLE IN PAKISTAN at the following locations:
LIBERTY BOOKS at all their locations in KARACHI and LAHORE
PARAMOUNT BOOKS in KARACHI (Main bookstore at PECHS and the Agha Khan bookstore)
Paramount Books in FAISALABAD and in ISLAMABAD
ORDER YOUR BOOKS ONLINE AT:
Do get your copies; and do let me know what you think 🤓
Here’s to Reading, Dreaming and Becoming 🌸
Dedicated to the memory of all those young people who struggled to fit into the norms dictated by their communities and who lost that battle. May the second wind in your sails be glorious and joyful.
LISTEN TO THE POEM BEING READ AT: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZSde5UerP/?k=1
I’m going to tell you a little story
Of a girl who loved too much,
Lived too much, hoped too much.
They said, she was too much!
She was a queen, a young one
But she had that zest for life
That is so rare and beautiful
That is also so ominous and direful
The story goes that she was born
In the wrong place at the wrong time
Nothing seemed to feel right in fact.
She was told to be someone that
She wasn’t. She was taught, against her will
To be the clone of a fantasy
That had persisted for centuries
And so the queen crumbled
Atom by atom, bit by bit, little by little
She fell apart like a young sapling
That has been buffeted and knocked about
By righteous winds whipped up
By those who were afraid of her
Of our queen getting out of the box
That they had so faithfully built for her
She finally broke into a million pieces
And she plummeted
She had once known how to fly like an eagle
To soar up to the top of the world.
But that memory was gone; pounded out
And so she fell
Hitting the ground six feet deep
And that is where she now sleeps.
LISTEN TO THE POEM BEING READ AT: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMLSPk6FW/
Cannons boom, bombs explode
The world is the home of war
Lieutenants give crisp commands
To their soldiers, weary and sore
The tribunal sits in their gilded halls
Drinking their whisky tea
The senior most is ninety years old
The youngest is seventy three
They take pride in stoking this war
‘Tis the battle of righteous men
Sending sons and daughters to fight
While they cackle in unison
There’s chaos and killing; a dread that is stilling
The conflict they’ve wrought makes no sense
The old men don’t care, as war trumpets blare
Charged by the flourish of their pens
Soon the booming cannons and the bombs
Will end their brutal repartee
Of slashing and slaying - their bloody tribute paid
To their masters across the seas
The dead will be many, they’ll lie in the mud
Young soldiers from both sides, together
The grief and the pain will be the same
In the broken hearts of all the mothers
War is Jang* is война* is Guerre*
There is no pretty word for it
That can honour or extol or purify
The endless sea of blood it lets
As cannons boom, bombs explode
And the world crashes and burns
The inflection point for humankind
Is now at the cusp of no return.
Jang/ война/ Guerre: The word “war” in Urdu, Russian and French respectively.
An update for all those who have shown so much love and interest in my book “The Girl with the Paisley Dupatta & Other Stories”, the publication is now available at the following locations:
FOR DUBAI-BASED friends and family:
To buy your copy, please send a WhatsApp message saying “Mahvash’s book of Short Stories” to
Mrs. Zarmina Ahsin on +971 50 357 6454
IN COLOMBO it is now available at the below locations:
- BAREFOOT Bookstore on Galle Road
- SARASAVI Bookstores in Shangrila, Nugegoda, Kandy and Kandy City Centre.
- EXPOGRAPHICs Bookstore in Battaramulla
- THE GOURMET BOUTIQUE on Alfred Place, Colombo 3.
- THE JAM FRUIT TREE Bookstore on Galle Road.
The PAKISTAN consignment will reach in the next month or so.
Here’s to Reading, Dreaming and Becoming 🌸
See book summary in the link below:
“I love you and only you
You fill my heart in every way
I will be but a shell if you
Call it quits and leave me some day”
Said the man with the twisted lips
As he held her close, hands on her hips
He’d done this a lot and then changed gears
The words felt absurd even to his own ears.
She looked into eyes that were gleaming with fire
Was it hope, was it love, was it lustful desire?
The three entities then followed behind
As she walked into the space of her heart and her mind
There she sat them down, the judicious sleuth
And looked into their faces now lit up with truth
Hope sat there wilted, there was hardly a trace
Of sincerity and faith on its mottled face
Love was like a wraith of its radiant self
Like old dust that had drifted off of the shelf
Smouldering away in the furthest corner
With sly little tentacles sat covetous Desire
It looked at her trying to hide its true hues
But in the light of the soul that was hard to do.
She lifted the heavy hands from her hips
Bestowed a smile from her beautiful lips
“I suppose I should say a heartfelt thank you
But I won’t; those words, they just don’t ring true”.
T = 0
December 24th, 2022
Despite its inherent catastrophic nature, the end had come quickly, almost mechanically. Its very swiftness had robbed it of the tragedy and chaos that usually accompany annihilation events. Some say it had started with the largely unnotable skirmish on the Russo-Ukrainian border. President Putin had fallen gravely ill at about the same time. His infirmity somehow catalysed the inscrutable little exchange of fire into an all out war as Russian troops marched belligenterlty into Kyiv. At about the same time, there was a devastating tsunami that whipped up in the Indian Ocean, a formidable ghost of its 2004 predecessor. The deluge ravaged twenty countries across Asia and East Africa in its deadly wake. In the space of a week, half the world had gone into emergency mode. The other half watched in a stupor of pandemic fatigue even as the new horrors unravelled. Two days after the tsunami, the Ukrainian troops fell to the wayside. No blood was shed, no words were spoken, no flags were raised or lowered. The invaders and the invaded sat together watching the world fall to pieces around them.
That is when she had come; the Mind-bender as she came to be called: Arfaana, a 35 year old woman who had until recently also been a mother of two. She had walked into Lafayette Square in Washington DC and screamed. She had screamed until she couldn’t scream anymore. And then she had wailed, her rhythmical moans echoing like the tolling of a doomsday bell. People had stopped in their tracks frozen. At first. And then something extraordinary had happened. There are many versions of the event but they all agree that somehow in that moment of tremendous anguish and pain, humanity had connected. At some combined cosmic and primitive level, the energy across the square had come together and found a harmony of purpose.
There was an almost communal climax of wretchedness and despair as one and all, the people had screamed and bellowed and wailed until there was not one unbruised throat left in the square. Arfaana had walked into the Capitol building then, her eyes wet and blazing at the same time; propelled onwards by a force of over five thousand strong. There she had spoken to silent, awestruck law makers and executors of the Republic. They had listened when she had called for the laying down of all arms; of creating a colourblind society; of sharing the world’s resources with all; of de-weaponizing the world. They had heard her speak of a new community, built on the vestiges of humanity that still remained in their current world. They say, Arfaana, the first Wise One, had summarily robbed them of their will that day. She had bent their minds to her way. Everything had changed after that. In a bizarre balancing act following The Fall that was marked with such colossal swells of angst and pain, the societal shift had happened quickly, almost mechanically.
T + 10 years
December 24th, 2032
Arfaana sat in the Discourse Room in Serenity Dome 1, in Washington. These safe havens had mushroomed after The Fall and now mainly housed within their impregnable, tranquil cores, the women of the planet. She had just had news that the two thousandth dome had been erected, this one in Lahore Pakistan. She had called her contemporary in South Asia to congratulate her on the milestone. The fissure in the Subcontinental patriarchal structures had been one of the hardest to make. But when the women had risen, the change again had been swift and mechanical. Hotels and guest houses had been converted to makeshift shelters for women across the subcontinental land mass. Ultimately, heritage buildings had been commandeered and lovingly converted into the very first Serenity Domes. There the female collective had regrouped and reformed their communities, one troublesome, caustic law at a time. It had taken the better part of the last decade to purge the South Asian society of its ingrained psyche of male privilege. From the roti seller* at the tandoor* to the testosterone driven CEO in his boardroom, they had all had to relearn the new ethos. There had been countless incarcerations as age old gender roles battled in the new environment. Many of the men had been “shifted” to shanty towns just outside city limits. These meandering, heaving masses of corrugated iron roofs, scrap material and sheets of plastic had burgeoned and blustered for years with the full might of the patriarchy.
In the sixth year of The Fall, the slum population had evened out and by the eighth year, it was finally in decline. Mindsets had been changed; the new norms had been learnt one bitter lesson at a time. There were still the odd ragtag bands of ex-society men who had refused to assimilate and who still blew off steam by plastering city squares with old world propaganda. The Wise Ones took a largely tolerant view of these muscle flexing shenanigans, letting the idiots tell their now obsolete “tales full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”(1). The adage adapted from old world literature had become their mainstream maternal approach. Indeed, the Wise Ones made every effort towards non-violence. They knew that their primary focus needed to be the new generation of men and women across the globe. They would be brought up with new codes of morality, community and awareness. They would be the ultimately balanced beings – both genders at ease with their masculine and their feminine sides.
By the fifth year, another epic milestone was achieved – planet-wide nuclear disarmament. By the eighth year of The Fall, global military spending had been reduced to less than 0.3% of world GDP. The planet was recovering in big and small ways as fossil fuels were steadily replaced with alternative forms of energy. By the end of a decade of the event, as resources were redistributed, lifestyles across the globe had become more or less consistent – typified by the western middle class before The Fall.
It had been a momentous journey of the mind, the heart and the will, thought Arfaana as she emerged from her musing. The women had finally triumphed! This last thought crossed her mind with almost academic stridency, repeated as it had been at so many pivotal moments in the last ten years. She paused, just for a moment. The slightest of pauses for a twinkling of a moment. And yet, in that tiny instance something had taken fledgling root. An awareness of imbalance; a new kind of an imbalance. Earth was transforming into the proverbial Venus. Hidden in that romantic confluence were dark shadows, whispering their own doomsday songs. Songs of a new, belligerent, unsound matriarchy.
Arfaana blinked, willing away the disturbing thoughts that were now crowding at the very edges of her mind. She knew these unsummoned visitors would bide their time, until they had gathered in their vastness aided by that formidable Truth teller, her Intuition. Arfaana rallied. They, the women had changed the world, one rotting, crumbling societal edifice at a time. They were saving the very humanity of human beings. They were building back compassion, harmony, cooperation and culture into their societies. They were building back better(2) … the hackneyed phrase from old world politics came stomping in, marching alongside her bolstering, purposeful train of thought. The hypocrisy, the bigotry and the irony that accompanied the catchphrase also came sashaying in, looking into her soul with their smug little faces. Venus Rising indeed! they seemed to say.
Arfaana picked up her com-set to call her Planning Manager. She wanted to make a change in the Earth and Science curriculum – the historical, mythical, science fictional allusions to Venus as anything but the second planet from the AM Star were to be omitted. There was still too much counter-matriarchal ammunition out there for the nay-sayers and the satire writers; their reformed world structure was still too new for such erratic emotionalism. The “Sun”, now called the AM Star had ceased to be called by its old name because of its masculine phonetics and the psycho-circularity of the word: Sun = Son = Sun. Venus too would be relegated to its astrophysical purity without the dubious romanticism given to it by old world patriarchy. One of the Wise Ones had said something about Earth too … even “earth” had begun to sound mannish.
They would have to revisit academic curricula around the world, review the very semantics of language itself, to purge it of its inherent masculinity.
Arfaana took a sip of her steaming mug of tea. She sat up and gazed into the distance, her determination strong and unwavering. Even if their new collective ethos was somewhat imperfect; even if their matriarchal restructuring sometimes seemed like barely cloaked knee jerk reactions to their gender-biased past, it was now the women’s turn.
* Roti-seller: Seller of Indian/ Pakistani flat bread.
* Tandoor: Also known as tannour it is predominantly a cylindrical clay or metal oven used in cooking and baking. The tandoor is something of a transitional form between a makeshift earth oven and the horizontal-plane masonry oven.
(1): Quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
(2): The Build Back Better Plan was a legislative framework proposed by the 46th U.S. President Joe Biden ahead of his inauguration
How some people call all the shots
For you and me; on what’s right and what’s not
On how we should all live our lives
On what we should want to grow and to thrive.
And we follow them like so many mice
The Pied Piper surely leaves us no choice
How some nations are on top of their game
And others continually parry insults and blame
Some swirl around in their blood, sweat and tears
While others race on winds of good cheer
And yet we stand by like so many sheep
The First World Dream will not let us be
How the spirit of our humanity
Has gone into permanent servitude
For the battle of egos of the few
Losing our grip on what’s right and true
And we circle around like so many moths
Burning our wings in the flames of their wrath
How hard it has become of late
To step out of the comfort of the bell curve
Created to kill off the being that’s you
Teaching you how you must hate and love
And we fight on like so many soldiers sore
Thinking one more battle will win us the war
Even as I write these lines
A question skips on the edge of my mind
No, there are two for misery loves company
Who’ll tell me the answers that I seek to find -
When did the glow inside you cease to exist?
When did Instinct and Courage let go of my wrists?
I am Laughter and I am Tears
I am the apex of my most lucid Fears
I am Joy and I am Peace
I am all that the tranquil dove sees
I am Chaos, I am Discord
I am the Trodden, I am Master and Lord
I am Winter and I am Spring
I wither, I fade and I waken again
I am Rage and I am Love
I’m the depths of the ocean, I am the heavens above
I am the Devil and I am the Saint
I’m rampant, unbridled and also restrained.
I am the Thundering Eye of the storm
I am the Deluge that it brings along
I am the Space Dust whirling around
Deformed defacements that once were sound
I am also the Centre of the Universe
I’m the Infinite Beauty of prose and verse
I am Kindness and I am Faith
I am Hope and I am Grace
I am the Atom, I am the Whole
I am the Body, I am the Soul
I am whoever that I want to be
I am Maya*, I am Cosmic Energy.
* MAYA: The personification of the idea that the material world is illusory. Maya is a female name in various languages. In Sanskrit, for instance, it means "illusion or magic", and is also an alternate name of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. In the Tupi language, of southern Brazil, it means "mother". In the Māori language, it means "courage" or "bravery".
Dear friends and family,
Happy to say that my infinite number of monkeys clacking away at a keyboard trying to produce a lucid piece of writing phase seems to have borne some fruit! Presenting to you my first children’s book: CURIOUS ANIMALS, A CLOUD, A FRUIT AND A FLOWER. This collection of poems comes straight from the funny, quirky cockles of the heart. With little stories ranging from the grumpy caterpillar, to the shy tomato, to how the okapi got its name, these short stories entertain, inform and also bring out a giggle or 4! Both, children and adults will enjoy this vibrantly illustrated, lyrical story-telling.
Print copies will be available in Sri Lanka next week (hopefully!). I’m going to try and make them available in Pakistan soon too.
The KINDLE e-version is currently available on Amazon at:
Here’s to #rainsingreaders! 🤓
I Laugh Out Loud as I hear him tell the joke
Of the 12 inch pianist who was quite the coincidental bloke
She Twittered delightedly out loud and on her phone
We were out and about, having coffee and conversation
About Freedom of Religion and Marijuana regulation
Facebook also heard it all through her joyful proclamation
The waiter brought our food in style, ‘here you are madam!’
He and I had pizza, she had salad with J. Statham*,
(The pleasure of his photo presence she could only fathom!)
But Instagram was hit with #handsomeboy and #foodgasm
We were done with lunch now, chatting over cherry flan
When there was a bustle and in walked Fawad Khan*
Of course she put the video on Snapchat for all her fans
Three hours later, satiated, our day updated digitally
While saying goodbye, he tripped outside and fell on the concrete
TikTok later showed us all how hilarious tragedy can be.
And there you have it, dear friends and frenemies
Our lives on a platter for all the world to see
A Schizo-polar history for our bedevilled progeny.
* Jason Statham: An English actor and producer. Typecast as an antihero, he is known for action-thriller films and portraying tough, irredeemable, and machiavellian characters.
* Fawad Khan: a popular Pakistani drama and film star.
Saqib Zaka looked at the sheet of paper in his hands. He stared at the short pithy statements that descended down its length, as they looked back at him accusingly, tauntingly. There was some colour on the paper too – an angry red gash against three of the statements. Four-letter gashes in fact, that had blurred before his anxious scrutiny; FAIL they proclaimed loud enough for the whole universe to hear. Saqib shook his head slightly, willing away the buzzing swarm of desperate thoughts that were crowding out all sanity, dignity and even his ability to read. He looked at the transcript again and finally set the truth free: he had failed his pre-engineering exam, for the second time.
Thirty years hence, that memory had stuck to him like rust; constantly eating away at his calmness and purpose. He had tried, in his intrepid moments, to shake the constancy of the memory off, to replace it with the triumphs that had also since found their circuitous way to him. But the recollection and all its accompanying sinking, shrinking, benumbing sensations had prevailed like insidious tenants in the space of his mind.
Saqib sighed and looked around him. The imposing room that had been his father’s office and was now, by default, his, shimmered in the late afternoon light coming in through the window. Despite his best effort not to, his eyes came to rest on the canvas that hung on the wall directly opposite his desk. It was a complex piece of Gestural Abstract art which had hung in the stately room for at least the last twenty years. In its monochromatic palette of random splashes, he always saw a figure, broken down and disjointed reaching for the ground with such desperation that it was almost like he was willing the earth to swallow him whole; annihilate his whole existence. The hugeness of the canvas added to the enormity of hopelessness that spilt from it; flowing into the room like a constant, unending stream of emotional sludge. He hated the piece. And yet, it hung there smug and superior, intimidating and authoritative, alive and kicking. It was one of his father’s favourite pieces of art.
A knock at the door halted his mangled introspection. The rest of the day passed in a flurry of activity that slowly abated around 6 O’ clock. Saqib then picked up his Smythson Panama briefcase and headed for his car. His father would be in tomorrow. Over the last year, more and more, the reigns of the company had been shifted officiously, almost belligerently from father to son. Even so, Sikander Zaka Khan swept into the office once a week, taking everything by storm. It took a day for the dust to settle, while his own reputation as the able scion of the family business was depleted slowly but surely, like the helium escaping from a balloon that had the smallest of perforations in it. With each passing week, even the most stoic of Sikander Zaka and Son employees had seen the boss’s offspring for the chip of the old block that he was definitely not. Ever so gradually, almost imperceptibly, there had been a change in the organisational culture as boardroom debates became more lively, just short of being heated, and the ambient murmur of the executive floor rose a few, not unnoticeable decibels. Saqib had watched all this silently, knowing it was just another counter intuitive ploy by which his father was toughening him up for the role of CEO of one of the largest textile spinning units in Karachi.
While a myriad ungracious, unforgiving thoughts passed through his mind about his unemancipated state, Saqib was also keenly aware of how his Harrods Roquefort bread was buttered: he knew he lacked the rigour and the character for a regular corporate job. He couldn’t see himself slogging 9 to 5 with only thirty days of paid leave. If he was absolutely candid with himself, he knew also, that he didn’t have the requisite skill set either, armed even though he was with his Bachelors degree from the Imperial College London. The couple of Finance courses that he hadn’t quite cleared in the first go, were another echoing reminder of his failure. He knew that to live in the lap of luxury that he was used to, he would have to sacrifice his life choices to a considerable extent and his sense of self, quite entirely. If it had been up to him, he would have become an interior designer … moonlighting as a chef. He loved the aesthetics of furniture and food. He had singlehandedly furnished and decorated his beautiful home. The fact that his wife was quite happy to let him take the lead on all home improvement projects had helped considerably in helping to keep his heart where his home was. His glamorous home on Khayaban-e-Shamsheer was the envy of many a well heeled housewife with whom he readily and fondly shared his vast stores of knowledge, from the best upholsterer in town to the florist who had the freshest imported blooms. His home was indeed, a loving tribute to all his most precious and unrequited dreams.
“Hello Abu”, came the cracked voice from the lounge as Saqib opened the front door to his house. Despite the burden of his innermost thoughts that had today descended upon him like a flood, he smiled. Shuja was growing up and his body was being put to the age old test of the transition from boy to man. His voice had started to break a couple of months ago, a fact that had quickly become a point of many light hearted moments between father and son. He was sprawled on his favourite lounger, his PS4 controller in his hands. Father and son had picked the soft blue fabric for the sofa together and the reupholdstered seat had become Shuja’s favourite chair in the house. His Velvet Dream he had once called it. Saqib had smiled at the aptness of the name for the chair and also for his own secret little stash of them. Shuja was a good child. He was also very creative and talented. And brave. Saqib acknowledged this last characteristic with some trepidation. There was so much potential danger embodied in that attribute that he couldn’t quite bring himself to look upon it as a quality, a gift. With his unusually honed skill as an artist and his love of cooking, he was quite the apple of his father’s eye. And in the sanctity of his home, Saqib allowed his heart to swell with pleasure. He looked at his fourteen year old son, his eldest, with a mixture of pride and joy.
Read Part Two here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2021/10/08/velvet-dreams-part-two/
For all the girls, and the women young and old, who are made to feel less, inferior or impaired because they have dreams that are different to the ones dreamt up for them by others. May you find the strength and the passion to be you.
Why must I be what I don’t want to be?
Why must I change the state of my dreams?
Why must I cower in fear of my world?
Why must the story of my life stay untold?
Why must I hide myself away?
Why must I look behind me always?
Why must there always be danger to me?
To my spirit, my soul, my mind, my body?
Why can I not laugh out loud when I want?
Why must I hide all my joy in my heart?
Why can’t I turn my face to the sun?
Why must I hide in the shadows you’ve spun?
Why must I bear the ball and chain of my roots?
Why must I remain invisible and mute?
Why was I born if not to revel
In life’s ever cresting and falling swell?
I’m a child of this world, let me roam free
Let me think, let me speak, let me be me
I’m a creature of this earth, I belong everywhere
Let me spread my wings, let me lay my heart bare
Let me be, let me be, just what I want to be
Let me dream, let me dream, what I want to dream
Let me walk in this world unafraid and kind
Let my life tell the story of my heart and my mind.
This is a tribute to all the women in fact who are oppressed, reduced and shamed in the name of religion, and who still find the strength and dignity to go on another day.
O Talib*, O ye self-professed Learned One,
I have something to say to you.
You can whip up monsters from the air and call them your Shariah*.
You can torture and mangle “your” women, break their spirits and their bodies and call it the Word of God.
You can wear your imperious lungee* and as it swishes around in the wind, you imagine the very angels dancing around you.
You grow your hairy beards, and hide your malevolent grins behind them.
You rumble and you roar and that is your devotion.
You maim and you kill and you call that Divine intervention.
But then secretly you also glance at your reflections and you see what we all see: imperfect, angry, reviled men trying to validate their existence in the only way they can - by wiping the planet clean of the scourge of the Double (H)Ex*. But then you pause with the greatest effort known to the Men of God and you think:
How can we annihilate this evil, garbed in soft flesh if we are to propagate and procreate? How else are we to add to the rank and file of Allah’s soldiers?
The conundrum is excruciating. So you continue to brutalize and ravage just short of pushing her six feet under. Just so you can crush her under you instead and make her pay for staying alive. To bear and to beget your many sons. To nurture and feed your rabid army of the Men of Allah.
O Ye Men of Allah,
I have something to say to you. Hear me.
I am the Daughter of the Universe; the Yin to your Yang, the ultimate balancing act of God’s will gone wrong in your hands.
Hear me. We will be who we are: the proud women of Afghanistan. Our honour lies serenely, supremely, completely in the depths of our own eyes, not in yours.
Look at me. Don’t hide behind your fragile male bravado.
Look at me. Don’t turn your suddenly shameful eyes away.
Look at me. Look at me.
Look at me as I rise like a Phoenix from the ashes that you kicked aside.
Look at me as I look at you.
Look at me and see what you have become.
Look at me as your heart Drains … Shrivels …. Breaks …. Burns in its own hell.
Hear me, my voice will echo through my sisters even if mine falls silent. You will Hear me.
Look at me, even if it is at my corpse as I go to meet my Maker. You will Look at me.
For Allah hears me. For Allah sees me.
Allah stands behind me as we both look at you. As we both await you.
* Double (H)Ex: Word play on the double X chromosomes that all female mammals possess. Hex is a spell or a curse.
* Talib: Scholar; Learned one.
* Shariah: Islamic law derived from the teachings of the Quran but mainly from the Prophet Muhammad. It is not a list of rules but rather a set of principles on aspects of life, including marriage, divorce, finance and rituals such as fasting and prayer.
* Lungee: turban/ cloth worn around the head.
US Hegemony, Its Lingering Pakistan/ Afghanistan Embarrassment and now a Taliban Government
It was the early 80s. I still vividly remember as a child, standing on the side of the iconic Mall road in Murree (a mountain resort town situated about 30kms northeast of Islamabad in Punjab, Pakistan, and also home to a number of missionary boarding schools) with compatriots from my school and others, waving little Pakistani and American flags as President Zia ul Haq accompanied by the then US Vice President, George H. W. Bush (Bush Senior) drove by in their endless cavalcade of black luxury sedans. For us it was a joyous day out of the regular rigour of boarding school life; for Pakistan it was the beginning of the end of its Rising Star status in the region.
Pakistan, so geostrategically well situated to catalyse the downfall of the Soviet empire- the one thorn in the side of the Americans and the only obstacle to an all out USA dominated planet- was requested to become Ally Numero Uno. And we complied in the then considered most shrewd and cunning manner – through religiously radicalising, arming and mobilising an entire nation in a war that was to turn in on itself for decades after the USSR fell. By God, did we comply! And for very little in return. A statesman at the helm of affairs at the time (or even a half-way successful businessman like Donald Trump armed as he is with his career collage of bankruptcies), rather than a religiously devout military man like Zia Ul Haq, would have at least got us better trade deals to help shore up the economy once the dust of battle settled. But these are wishful conjectures…and the rest as they say, is history.
Soviet Russia sputtered and fell and the USA couldn’t get out of the region fast enough, leaving two countries with populations in the area of 130 million (circa 1992) to clean up the mess. But radical religion has a way of festering, sometimes out of sight, and emerging multiplied, more virulent, more destructive and deadlier than before. And that has been the dubious Vestige of Alliance bestowed on the two countries, the “rewards” of which we are continuing to grimly reap. Kabul, once considered the Paris of the East, is now a wraith of its former self, and the country has been declared a failed state. Pakistan itself has been teetering on the edge of the abyss of Pariah States. It’s people have undergone decades of global dismissal at best and damnation at worst. Despite being the fifth most populous country in the world and a nuclear power, it has fallen behind all its compatriots on almost every index of progress, prosperity and nationhood. The war on terror in fact, has purportedly cost the Pakistani economy a total of almost USD 130 billion since 2001.
And now in a not entirely shocking but surprising turn of events, Afghanistan has fallen to the Taliban. I’m not even sure anymore as to how appropriate the term “fallen” is in this case. After all, for 40 years, the country was propped up by mostly US military might and the puppet government that it supported. The powers that be, were quite completely ignorant of the real dynamics of the region: the centuries old tribalism, the multicultural factionalism. They were attempting to colour Afghanistan with the same brush that they have done in almost all of their other failed military endeavours of the 20th and 21st centuries. They were trying to homogenise the country; bring it to heel via a myopic vision that they thought was applicable to all the tribes, all the different kinds of people that made up the rich social and cultural fabric of Afghanistan. They failed, utterly and completely.
The below are a few key reasons for this most recent watershed moment in the country:
⁃ The average Afghan, (mean age: 20 years) having lived in a state of mostly active war, has developed an innate distrust of its sham government and its “enablers” (the West). They see the country as having been taken over, “invaded” by the US; and that has never been a sustainable state of affairs for the proud, sovereign Afghan people. And so, after 40 years of occupation, many in the beleaguered country preferred to opt for the dystopic, ultra orthodox approach of the Taliban since it also brought with it freedom from the invading forces. There was thus, a perfect storm created at the centre of which was the formidable desire for self determination.
⁃ The last 20 years have purportedly seen billions of dollars siphoned towards the Afghan cause. But when you have a country with no economy to speak of, no development and no nation building, the aid tends to find its way into the local pockets of the crooked and the powerful. And so it has been with Afghanistan with very little of the aid finding its way to the communities at large. Investing in building trade and industry would have been the optimal way to make real, effective inroads into the lives of the people. But that requires sitting down with the people, understanding them and working with them at grass root levels. That was never the agenda of the US. They wanted things done their way backed by the full force of their military might. Which brings me to the third point.
⁃ The average Afghan also saw that there was massive corruption in the government, among the very people who were supposed to lead them out of their war-driven poverty. Over the past 40 years, a complete and utter trust deficit had grown between the people and their “infidel-supported” puppet government – there was no fifth, sixth or twentieth chance left to give to their leaders; no opportunities for do-overs by their government. And so, the exit of the allied troops also served as the inflection point for their exploitative, demoralised leadership to be overturned. That the Taliban were doing the overturning was inconsequential. At the end of the day, they in all their perverse, radical glory, were still their fellow citizens, their brothers in arms.
And so it was, that on a balmy August day in 2021, Afghanistan was once again a free country. Bizarre as it sounds given who freed the proud Afghan people, that for them, is the inalienable truth.
The million dollar question now is how the brand new Afghan sovereignty will be managed by the Taliban leadership. It is important to note that they as a faction, are also older, wiser and more cognisant of global norms, ethics and diplomacy. They are aware also that they are no longer a rag tag militia group hiding in caves and living on the edge with no clear and sustainable vision or mission. They have been catapulted against all odds (or indeed because of them!) into the role of the leaders of their homeland. They know they’ve outgrown the plundering, riotous band of robbers and murderers that they were. They know they now have the formidable task of the leadership and governance of almost 40 million people. The Taliban are aware that almost overnight they have morphed into statesmen.
The million dollar question beckons again: how are the Taliban going to go about being national leaders who will also be welcome on International platforms? A state that other countries will engage with on trade, diplomacy, military/defense, intelligence and foreign aid? They know they cannot exist as a dystopian island unto themselves; even if they have the inclination, they don’t have the means.
The early glimmerings in the immediate aftermath of the Taliban takeover indicate that it can go either way: their spokesperson is articulate and willing to share their points of view and to be questioned by mainstream international media. So far, the sound bites have been almost liberal by historical Taliban standards.
While I, as a woman, would not want to be a citizen of the newly independent state, I would still pause before summarily dismissing the new regime. We are living in strange times where no nation can lay claim anymore to being more righteous than the rest and presume to lead the natives out of their ignorance (everyone now has public skeletons in their History closets). These are also times where global ethics and policies are constantly being reshaped by the voices of the people of the world as they look for the truth; as they learn to separate the chaff from the grain on the information super highway.
While everything right now points to the country being pulled back into the dark ages, while our knee jerks are all about reclaiming the land back from the Taliban, we need to pause. We need to wait and watch. Like I said, we are living in strange times and while we continue to champion human rights, to raise our voices for the basic freedoms of every citizen everywhere, we still need to be aware that the one size of the western democratic ideal doesn’t fit all.
Closer to home, countries like Pakistan, Russia, China and Iran have a direct stake in this new equation since any militant activity will tend to spillover into these countries either in the form of terrorism or refugees or both as has been the unfortunate case in Pakistan. Now is the critical juncture where all the allies (and the adversaries!) in the region need to come together to make this transition in the Afghan government as seamless as possible, while also ensuring that the small steps made towards modernization and individual emancipation in the country over the last few years, are not completely decimated by the new orthodox Islamist regime.
LISTEN TO AN EXCERPT BEING READ AT: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZSdRVkkeJ/?k=1
Nighat pumped the accelerator and the clutch in frustration. The traffic on Murree road at this time was absolutely crazy. The end-of-school rush was upon everyone and it was mostly the hapless parents or their designated drivers who were on the road at this time. The only other people who dared to brave the snaking snags of congestion were responding to some emergency which only the Murree road route could resolve or, like herself, had been struck by temporary insanity. Her mother had even told her not to venture out at 1.30 in the afternoon, but she was on the adrenaline high of new clothes.
Nighat lived in Rawalpindi but much preferred availing herself of a handful of essential services from its twin city, included among which was her Darzi*. And so, when her tailor had called to say that her latest batch of shalwar kameezes* was ready, she just had to get to him, despite the snarly perils of the mid afternoon journey on Murree road. Her enthusiasm was now as wilted and droopy as was her hair in the August humidity. She touched the inky black mop on her head, patting it gingerly. She really needed to fix the airconditioner in her car – the fault-finding thought clipped up to her smugly as so many others had over the last thirty minutes – like censorial mother superiors.
An hour and a half later, she was at the Abpara market in sector G-6 in Islamabad, ensconced in the cool interior of Alamdar Tailor shop – Specialist in Alteration of Ladies and Gents. The proprietor, a portly man in his 60s was observant, agile and practical like most of his fellow dressmakers tended to be. When you’re a women’s outfitter in an Islamic Republic, you either need to be overtly homosexual or a man who is very obviously living a fairy tale perfect family life – in either case and for all to see, not having any need for minor titillations obtained at the expense of his female customer base. Master Alamdar was a happy hybrid of the two avatars. He wore pristinely stitched, bright coloured kurtas accentuated with antimony filled eyes, and his person surrounded by the heady bouquet of Ajmal Black Rose (unisex) attar. He also had a picture of his children (when they were all four of them, under eight years old), sitting on a shelf right behind him and in plain sight of all his customers. That same picture had been prominently displayed for at least the last twenty years, for the visual reassurance of all who sought his services. And so, both Master sahib and his motely brigade of begums happily played along with the ageless, faithful family harmony that emanated from his place of business.
Nighat however always liked to go just a little further in all her interactions with the opposite gender. At sixty one years old she was still a teenager at heart, abetted in equal measure by her own excitable nature as by the ironhandedness of her mother, the inimitable matriarch of their home. She now smiled coyly at Master Alamdar who smiled genially back while they both sipped on ice cold fantas. Nighat’s clothes were ready but after her hair raising, brake and accelerator fury of the last two hours on the road, she was inclined to sit back a little and enjoy a cold drink in the attar-redolent company of her tailor.
Master Alamdar was also an expert at deciphering which of his clients he could be extra chatty with and Nighat baji* was one of them. The two would wax eloquent on everything from the state of the weather to the weight lost or gained by Nighat. He had a talent for gauging and dressing the yo-yoing proportions of many of his lady customers. Tailors in Islamic republics are trained to observe from afar and can get a lady’s measurements pitch perfect from a handful of wary, discreet glances at her dupatta clad body.
Nighat was a burly woman, built more for the wrestling ring than for the more delicate shenhanigns of the catwalk. But her heart was bound in ribbons of old world romance that fluttered around her ample stature at all times. She was fond of imagining herself as a damsel in distress or a damsel in copious demand or a damsel on the fashion ramp; always a damsel of dainty things. This delicate demeanour exuding from her big frame was oddly endearing and so she had had a couple of brushes with real life romance too. Both times, the men had been retired army captains with twirly moustaches and receding hairlines that were assiduously cloaked in the inkiness of Bigen BB1, Blue-black hair dye. Both times too, she had been in her 40s and had considered herself “too young and impressionable” to have furthered the love interests: Those two opportunities to settle down had come and gone, and she had wisely put down her failure to romantically launch into either, as a late blooming on her part. Now in her 60s she felt readier than ever to become someone’s doting better half and a stay-at-home wife.
Nighat came from a family of modest businessmen and redoubtable matriarchs. Once in a while however, the one-off daughter with delicate sensibilities who was in constant need of protection, was born into the family. And so it was, that after four generations of formidable women, Nighat had come along as that dubious exception; the providential balancer of the Amazonian equation of their household
For all her social guilelessness, Nighat was a good teacher and had risen slowly but steadily in the academic ranks of her school system. She had started out as a Social Studies teacher twenty years ago. At sixty one, she had officially retired a year ago and was currently on an extendable three year contract as the vice principal of one of the flagship branches of the school in Rawalpindi. In her current senior capacity, she also conducted Teacher Training sessions for new entrants into the teaching system of the franchise. This meant frequent travel in and around the smaller cities and towns in Punjab and KPK*. She relished these week long trips away from home, even though she was accompanied most times by her eternal chaperon, her mother. She didn’t mind having her along: Her days were busy at work and the evenings were devoted to relishing rich pulaos* and mutton karahis* from the bazaar and watching movies from the limited repertoire of the guest house television cable service. She always found some park or walking area in town where she went for her early morning constitutional: a 45 minute ramble. Her mother was usually fast asleep at that time and she enjoyed the solitude and serenity of her sunrise circuit around the track in the city she was visiting.
* Shalwar Kameez: The traditional dress of women and men in the Punjab region of northwestern India and in Pakistan. The outfit comprises a pair of trousers (shalwar) and a tunic (kameez) that is usually paired with a scarf (dupatta).
* Darzi: Urdu for Tailor/ dress maker
* Attar: A fragrant essential oil, typically made from rose petals.
* Baji: In Urdu, term of respect used for older sister or an older woman.
* KPK: Abbreviation for Khyber Pukhtun Khwa - the northwestern province of Pakistan.
* Pulao: pilaf or pulao is a dish originating from the East, consisting of rice flavoured with spices and cooked in stock, to which meat, poultry, or fish may be added.
* Karahi: A Karahi is a tomato, ginger and garlic heavy curry cooked with various types of meat.
Read Part Two here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2021/08/08/love-in-rawalpindi-part-two/
Faith: more and more, a tenuous ideology as it has traditionally existed. Increasingly, we are seeing how conventional belief systems are becoming less and less able to minister to the spiritual needs of believers at large.
As our spheres of existence evolve, leaping and bounding into the digital age; as we progressively become part of a smaller and smaller global village, we are also increasingly being faced with unprecedented challenges in terms of how we interact with the communities we live in, and others around the world. More and more we see how intolerance, hate and suffering are being directly perpetrated in the dubious paths of organized belief systems. The way I see it, we have slowly but surely lost our humanity to the relentless machinations of modern day religious powerhouses.
What is Faith then, in the current times? What does it mean to be devout and devoted? Is it a copious measure of ritual practice while the heart continues to race in fear and the mind is a cacophony of discord in times of trial? Is it the demonstration of exalted acts performed in the way of glorifying one’s particular belief system which, at its very core, is selfish and ungenerous? Where every “good deed” is performed on a quid pro quo basis: you are charitable primarily so YOU can go to heaven, and not because someone is needy – (that’s just a circumstantially advantageous outcome). You go to church and to the mosque so YOU can get into the Almighty’s good books so YOU can skip into Eden, not because you have the well- being of your community at heart. All, spiritually depleting ideologies of faith practised solely from a fear of consequences, rather than the simple desire to embody and celebrate our humanity.
What is it then, to truly believe? Could it be simply, the genuine attempt to be the best version of oneself spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically? To be able to look within to become a force for good without? To be able to think for oneself more and to rely less on the divisive narrative of neo-evangelists? Is it to finally pay fit tribute to our innate “God-given” spiritual and mental prowess? To finally breaking through the webs of intrigue and confusion woven by self serving belief systems and sifting through the spiritual antimatter for ourselves.
Look around you. Nature itself has manifested how irrelevant caste, creed and racial differences are. How even more insignificant religiously wrought community and political boundaries are: The recent Corona virus pandemic didn’t pick political or religious sides. No one was beyond the reach of its pestilential nature. Why then are we not heeding what we instinctively know to be true: That our shared humanity is bigger than any individual religion. That our communal joys and sorrows are more spiritually potent than any Sunday service or Friday ‘Khutba’*. That together we are a stronger, better, more spiritually evolved species than we are when projecting our differences of Faith. At the end of the day, the very essence of all religions is entrenched not only in equality, kindness and charity among “our own flock”, but in thoughtfully and inclusively channeling these attributes to ensure one becomes a more universal force for good.
It is time. Time to break through the inertia and the paralysis of our different religions; of the illogical but deeply ingrained ways we are taught to hate one another. It is time to start having the difficult but essential discussions on renewing and revitalising our counter intuitive belief systems. It is time to take back our hijacked/ distorted ideologies of belief and once again breathe the essence of universal humanity into them.
* Khutba: publicly held formal sermon, especially delivered after the communal Friday prayers in the Islamic religion.
LISTEN TO AN EXCERPT BEING READ AT: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZSeKswDLn/
Angela was married to Dilshan, and one was hard pressed to find a more incongruent union that had somehow also withstood the test of time. So at odds was Angela’s marital partnership with everything that defined her now that she herself sat back in puzzlement over it sometimes. It was not so much that their personalities were so entirely different; for her it was the unassailable fact that he was a Buddhist and she a Christian. She had fallen in love and as things of the heart tend to do, they had led her down the one and only rabbit hole in the otherwise satisfyingly flat, burrow-free fields of her life. She was not exactly a devout catholic; she was just a formidable believer that her kind had got it as right as imperfect humans could get an ideology of faith, and that everyone else was paddling in karmically rough seas. The Dharmachakra* from her husband’s side was bad enough; but the Crescent and Star* that was always bursting into flames on the local and the global horizons was the very limit of her endurance: no she was not particularly fond of her Muslim fellow citizens and had made assiduous efforts throughout her life to stay as culturally and socially faithful to her Sri Lankan Christian roots as she could. That included giving a studiously wide berth to grocery stores, restaurants and neighbours that had even vaguely Muslim sounding names.
The most amazing part of this covert, no frills prejudiced way of life was the fact that Angela had embraced it in absolute good faith, asssured of the blessings of the universe. For she was, she believed, a straight talking good woman with a guaranteed one way ticket to whatever version of “heaven” there was atop the tropical rain clouds that floated perennially over their blessed island.
Dilshan was an old school gentleman and a good husband. Despite a regular stream of ample and compelling reasons to have nulled and voided the misadventure that was his marriage to Angela, he had persevered. Indeed, to anyone who knew them, it was stupefyingly clear that he had made it his life’s sole purpose to survive the partnership into old age or kick the bucket trying. He was a romantic at heart and time had also endowed him with an extreme myopia of mercifully both, his outer and his inner visions. He saw only enough of his wife’s lunatic biases that allowed him to smile indulgently followed immediately by a happy vacuousness. The haze in his mind had conspired with the love in his heart, keeping him true, enamoured and forgiving.
Life had been generally good to Angela and Dilshan.
They had two sons who were both living abroad and doing well. Angela and Dilshan had sold most of their assets to educate their progeny and now lived in comfortable rented spaces in the heart of Colombo. They had been at Mall Square now for seven years and with time the 9th floor apartment had become a haven for the couple, and a sanctuary for Angela’s formidable collection of orchids and snow globes and Dilshan’s more modest ammassment of mostly Nora Roberts and Stephen King novels. With time, Dilshan had lost the temerity for both genres and the books had glanced back from their glass cabinets like dowager lovers, sometimes giving him a wrinkly old glad eye and at others scaring him into the furthest recesses of his fuzziest thoughts.
It was June of 2020 – the Covid 19 pandemic was raging around the world with a virulence and a savagery that had shaken the planet. The little tear drop island was no exception and the city was just about emerging, beset and shaken from the first wave and a six week lockdown. It was at the tail end June in fact, when Dilshan had at first begun to feel listless and then been gripped in the throes of an unrelenting fever. He had tested negative for the virus, but he was nevertheless hospitalised and isolated. The virus was too new as were the diagnostics to test it. False negatives were far more dangerous than false positives, and so patients presenting with severe flu-like symptoms were administered the same quarantine protocols as were the Covid-positive cases.
Dilshan had been in hospital for a week when the call from Mrs. D’Souza came. Their landlady who lived in the UK was heading home to ride out the infectious wave that had brought her adopted country to its knees. She was in her 80s and the matriarch of her townhouse in Kent as well as the two properties she rented out on home shores. One of them was the Dias’s apartment. Mrs. D’Souza was coming home to roost and her nest of choice was going to be her Mall Square apartment. She duly invoked clause number 7 in their tenancy agreement and summarily served a two month notice to her tenants. Angela at first, indignant and outraged, was soon persuaded mainly by impassable legal obligations and to no small extent, by the christinanness of her landlady, to be mollified and to plead for a change of heart. Where were they to go at such short notice and under these horrendous Covid conditions? Mrs. D’Souza was polite but unyielding. Her other apartment was in a swanky new high rise and her Kuwaiti tenants there paid a premium which she was in no mind to sacrifice on the basis of a “shared faith”. She had been mildly amused at this last somewhat religio-phobic petition made by her tenant. Mrs. Dias had always been somewhat eccentric and time had obviously not been kind to her on that front. Mrs. D’Souza had always preferred to deal with the husband who was an upright, sensible man.
Angela sat in her verdantly riotous balcony that overlooked the park. It was just past 5 O’clock in the evening and her maid had brought her tea and Marie biscuits. She touched the head of one of her prized Foxtail orchids gently, distractedly while her mind was busy calculating, planning, fire fighting. She would have to enlist the help of some of her long time friends to help her pack up their apartment and to warehouse their belongings until they found another place. She and Dilshan would then have to move in with one of them. Staying with extended family on either side was out of the question since relationships on both sides had suffered the rigours of neglect and more than a few clashes of opinions over the last couple of decades. She picked up her phone to call Rashmi.
“Hello darling! Has that mean old crone allowed you to stay on?” chirped Rashmi as soon as she picked up the phone.
“No, we have to move. So much to do. I was wondering if you could help”, said Angela frowning into the distance, scanning the mental list she had prepared of the exact nature of assistance that she would be requesting from four of her closest friends.
“Of course darling. I can come by day after for a chat”, responded Rashmi.
“Can you come tomorrow?” asked Angela, “I don’t have too much time, and with Dilshan in the hospital, there is a lot to do”.
Rashmi had promised to come by the next day and help in whatever way she could. Angela had decided to ask her friend if she and Dilshan could stay for a few weeks in the guest quarters of their spacious Colombo 7 home.
Angela had actually begun to look forward to this little adventure: everyone would pitch in and get the laborious packing and storing work out of the way; and it might even be a vacation of sorts for her and Dilshan to stay at one of their friends’ homes in the city.
* DharmaChakra: Sanskrit for the dharma wheel, it is one of the oldest symbols of Buddhism. Around the globe it is used to represent Buddhism in the same way that a Cross represents Christianity or a Star of David represents Judaism.
* Crescent and Star: The five pointed star reflects the Five Pillars of Islam which are central to the faith, and the crescent moon and stars are symbols relating to the greatness of the creator.
* Read Part two here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2021/06/25/keeping-the-faith-part-two/
This is a tribute of determination, hope and new beginnings not only for the Pakistani women, but for all the heroic women around the world who are speaking out and standing up for themselves against all manner of cruel and brutal patriarchy. It is also a testimonial and a resounding voice of support for those brave sisters of ours who are living from day to day, facing their detractors with courage and resilience in the hope of a better tomorrow.
I have grown in its shadow; I have felt its hot breath
As it slithers around me; dogging my every step.
I hear it jeer in the brightness of day
On streets and in parks and in quiet cafes.
I see it brazenly growl at my sisters too
As it strides along its pernicious route.
It thunders and lashes and speaks in strange tongues
My head is reeling; there’s no air in my lungs!
From quiet dark murmurs it’s upsurged to discord
The brutal Patriarchy - our master and lord!
I’ve decided I won’t heed its vanquishing rail
I’ve resolved I will fight it tooth and nail.
And so I have become one of the “pariah” few
Who is resoundingly calling for something new.
I make my case; then await the backlash
For sticks and stones; a bruise and a gash.
There are more like myself who are throwing back the knives,
We’re banding together to take back our lives.
One more voice, one more person, one more protest
We’re the Women of _____ ; and we’re up to this test.
From the farthest reaches of our blessed land
We will raise our voices, our spirits, our hands;
Let’s tell them, That’s it! That’s enough! No more!
We won’t be your chattels, your “Islamic honour”.
We won’t hide away so you can roam free
With your hormones and lust; your uncontrollable needs.
We won’t be degraded, threatened and shamed
While you play out your age old tribal games.
We, your wives, your sisters and your daughters
Will be shepherded no more like lambs to the slaughter.
We are the tender, formidable half of our world
We are the guides, the teachers and the nurturers
We birth generations to carry precious legacies
Of peace and love; progress and humanity.
For too long have those reins been usurped by the men
We are taking them back on every continent.
We will be your equals in every way
Step down from those pedestals; come out of your caves.
Hold our hands as your partners as together we walk
We have risen; we are strong; we are the Dome of the Rock*.
* Dome of the Rock: A holy site in Jerusalem which hosts the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, a seventh-century structure believed to be where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
Read THE WOMEN OF PAKISTAN - PART ONE here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2021/04/08/we-the-women-of-pk/
Dharshini got into her red Honda Fit, wincing in pain. The visit to the orthopaedic specialist had become essential after a week of agony; her whole right leg throbbed like the devil! She knew she had weak knees, troublesome joints and yet, she’d whirled about that room like her behind was on fire! God! Hormones … or was it the lack of them … she thought wearily, the thrill and the motivation of that performance both now squatting in her head like large stupid birds, staring blandly at her. She grimaced as she gently pressed the accelerator, and drove into the Galle Road traffic.
Dharshini, known fondly and unfondly as Dharshi by her various circles of friends and frenemies was 57, bold and beautiful. The perfection marred, just as all sublime things tend to be, in this case, with osteoarthritic joints. Still, she carried herself with the easy confidence borne of almost always standing out in a room full of people. The occasions where she was upstaged, were few and summarily forgotten under dutiful bouts of social amnesia; both, by her and her coterie of cohorts. She was hands down, the alpha of her group, a fact that nobody could deny or indeed, had the temerity to.
A month or so ago, Dharshini had signed up for social dancing classes. She’d heard rumblings of this venue of perspiration and contortions being the place to meet “Good” people. “Eligible” was of course not what she was looking for; after all she was a married woman. Not entirely happily, and not quite cohabiting with her somewhat estranged spouse, but still to all intents and purposes, secured in sacred wedlock. That fact had been conveniently relevant thus far in keeping at bay, the droves of ill suited middle aged and senior hopefuls who constantly vied for her hand and her heart. She had developed a rejection strategy all her own: with every new admirer, although she knew from the outset how it would end, she would only gently, gradually pass on that knowledge to him; after exacting a few lunches, a trip or two for herself and her girl friends and maybe even a bauble or two, in at least silver. It was a sweet, harmless enterprise she always thought coyly, where both parties benefited. She was not one given to dwelling on the aftermath of a broken heart; her moral due diligence ended with her making it resoundingly clear at some point, that she was only ever a friend. And that even if there was some misunderstanding that she hoped that her most recently crushed courter had enjoyed their camaraderie and that they’d continue to be genial with each other. She’d bestow her most beatific smile and come away contented and cheerful, warm in the glow of a problem solved and her moral compass pointing truly heavenwards.
It was on the Dance floor – that battlefield of laborious leg work and fitful grace, that she’d met Danny. A 45 year old divorcee, Daniel had recently moved back to Sri Lanka after a 10 year stint at marriage and business in Brisbane, Australia. Both had come crashing around him about a year ago. He’d decided then that home was where the heart really was and had, bag, baggage and a dog, returned to his hometown of Colombo. He had always loved dancing and was quite consummately professional at executing the lusty, physical moves of the salsa, bachata and the waltz. In an effort to forget the last decade, he plunged into everything that had defined him before he moved abroad and that ironically, went against many of his predilections now. And so, one of the first things he’d done was to sign up as an instructor at his old social dancing school. A decade ago, he’d been one of their more popular teachers with an avid throng of female admirers who were obliged by their fluttering hearts to sign up as students too. It was a lucrative scheme for dashing Danny and a two hour theatre of titillation and thrills for the dancing brigade. Danny had in fact, met his ex-wife at that very school. She had no talent for the Waltz but had sure-footedly danced her way into his heart. That was really the only time they had ever danced for the sheer pleasure of it. After matrimony settled them into its no-nonsense folds, she realized that she quite despised the art form and he realized with some alarm and then resignation that that fact was the least of his marital woes.
Like the other women, Dharshini too had found herself responding to the agile charms of her dance instructor. He had, on more than a few occasions, taken her as his partner to demonstrate to the rest of the class, a particularly complex move full of wild, rousing acrobatics. She came away from these twists and spins breathless and reddened with exertion and excitement. She was sure he too felt his heart strings being jiggled and jostled in all that animated physicality and closeness. He was different though. He wasn’t smiling too readily at her; or babbling; or otherwise showing any signs of being under the influence of her enchantment and allure. Traditionally she was the pursued and the besotted men did all the labour-intensive pursuing. He was congenial but just distant enough to show that he was in control of the situation and if this … this thing… had to go anywhere, it was for her to make the first move. This realisation was both heady and new. She had smiled to herself. There was something else that was new here too: her heart after ages, was beating for someone else!
And so Dharshini had thrown herself into her Salsa and Bacahata lessons, three times a week. A fortnight into the enterprise, she had slipped and fallen on the tiled floor, landing directly on her knees. In the heat of the moment and in the insular glow that now surrounded her at every class, she didn’t feel the pain nor the ominous creaking of her joints every time she bent her knees or leaped deer-like out of her partner’s arms onto the hard floor. She went to bed in a haze of contentment and love. She even felt a random gentle wave of affection rise for all her other unfortunate suitors who had gone their own way. I hope they’re all happy just as I am, she’d thought charitably, big-heartedly. And with that she drifted off into a dreamless, restful sleep.
‘Why was I jumping like a monkey on steroids? Why? Why?’ Dharshini complained bitterly to Sabeena on the phone the next morning. Her mid morning phone chats with one or another of her friends marked the start of every day. She always came away feeling invigorated, light of load and rearing to get on with the rest of her day. Sabeena too came away from the phone call, her inner calm now quite shattered by the torturous raving and ranting of her bossy but well-meaning friend.
The morning after her fall, Dharshini hadn’t been able to bend her right knee at all, and had thought it was best if she stayed in bed. These restful, placatory measures had often worked when her joints occasionally rebelled in the tropical rains and humidity. This was the first time, however, that she’d subjected them to such pounding, ceaseless torture. For two whole weeks! They were obviously going to act like petulant, griping grande dames. For Dharshini, her ankles and her knees were like a twinsome of spinsterly companions that had set up permanent residence on her person. While everything else felt youthful and sprightly, these joints never matched up. They creaked and complained at the slightest intrusion of weather or activity and it took large doses of rest and relaxation to get their grumbling soreness to settle.
The pain had not subsided even after a week of missing classes and tending to her knees. She had finally decided to see her orthopaedic specialist. The doctor and she shared a love-hate relationship on behalf of her joints which he quite practically considered his wards too. He knew that Dharshini only ever came to him when things had gone from bad to worse and when he’d have to resort to strongly advising, cajoling and then threatening, to have her be more compliant. She knew that the good doctor meant well but he was always so grim and pessimistic; always making her feel old and doddery.
‘Mrs. Gunaratne, have you been trying to run relays lately?’ he asked feeling her swollen right knee. She grimaced and mumbled something unintelligible. The universe and he both knew what she meant.
‘You have weak joints Mrs. G. There is hardly any cartilage left in your right knee and the gel* injections are soon going to be insufficient to keep it going. It’s knee replacement surgery for you if this goes on’, he said darkly but also with some satisfaction. He was really quite at his wits end with patients like Mrs. Gunaratne who refused to take supplements, had congenital osteoarthritis and were always up to some joint-jarring misadventure.
‘Doctor Herath, please just give me the injection and I promise to take the pills. I have to go soon. I have another appointment’, Dharshini said somewhat testily. But not too aggressively. He was after all the best orthopaedic surgeon in town. And when it was absolutely necessary, he would be the one to endow her with a set of new knees. She always balked at the idea of surgery and not even the prospect of agreeable, maiden knees could dispel her horror of the surgeon’s scalpel.
* Gel injections: One of the more effective treatments for arthritis is gel knee shots — also referred to as viscosupplementation or hyaluronic acid injections.
Read Part Two here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2021/06/05/riotous-love-part-two/
Global politics, our collective Moral Compass and the Palestinian tragedy
Funny what our world has become. We grow, we evolve, we hope to become ever better versions of ourselves, and then life gets in the way; our pursuit of success and even our quest for happiness gets in the way. Somewhere down the line, we’ve lost the actual essence of those pursuits; we’ve lost touch with what makes us human – the heart and soul equation we call our Moral Compass. This degradation of our will to distinguish between what feels wrong and what doesn’t, deep in our gut, has gone on for so long that now we don’t even recognise when we are party to cruelty, injustice or irrationality in the name of ideology, faith and correctness.
We, as a species however, are not innately bad. The overwhelming majority of us mean well. We want to do the right thing; we want to stand for the right causes; we want to speak up where it matters. But so insidious and crafty is the state of our global politics and the malicious power mongering that goes on in its toxic folds, that for large swathes of humanity to be duped, brain-washed and even numbed to atrocities is now completely normal.
The one double edged sword where the glint of steel can go either way is digital media. While it is rife with conspiracy theories and extremist ideologies, there is also a healthy spectrum of enterprising, truth telling news and information sources on there. What becomes a necessary obligation on behalf of us, the bulk of humanity using these platforms, is to do the work to separate the grain from the chaff; the truth from the lies; the sincere from the duplicitous. That will depend heavily on first, how true we stay to our own value systems and then, on how we navigate through the tortuous labyrinth of information surrounding us.
Case in point: the Palestinian tragedy. The bare-faced atrocities have gone on for so long, that we seem to have lost our collective capacity to see them for what they are. And all the while, they have become ever more brazen and cruel. If this was a hypothetical study, it would be an open and shut case long before it had even reached its current levels of criminality. And yet, while we are ideologically devoted to fair play, we appear to have lost our will, our voice and our moral authority to really make it happen. The overwhelming reason: Because the global power brokers, deal makers and profiteers continue to blast their deafening megaphones with cooked up intrigues and imagined threats, confusing, bewildering and paralysing the rest of us.
In the wake of the recent unrest however, despite all the grossly biased journalism and political posturing, it’s been heartening to see the entire international community come together as one, to voice their concerns; to make their genuine feelings about the situation heard. This time, our collective moral compass seems to be swinging in the right direction. We have proven that the vast majority of us still believe in basic decency and justice.
This then is something of a hope and a prayer for the truth seekers and the compass bearers out there. May we continue to find the moral and ideological strength to discern, weigh in and be heard. For the Palestinians and for all the others that are disenfranchised, marginalised and oppressed. Let us take back the global diplomacy narrative from the politicians and their funding platforms. Let us put back some soul and some humanity into the voices that we are raising for a more just and honest world.
* Title inspiration from Fassbinder’s 1973 movie of the same name.
Teatime- a word that invokes so many nostalgic memories, while also carrying with it the promise of another little social do right around the corner. I write this from the subcontinental (read: classic) perspective where tea means exactly that, and is not in fact a culinary codeword for another meal…like dinner perhaps!
Having lived in a country, nigh upon six years now, which is known for its magnificent tea plantations, I came here expecting to be swept off my feet with supremely flavourful tea served with as much fanfare. But oh, the lost pleasure of the perfect cup of tea! Not only has the stately beverage been woefully overshadowed by its more robust cousin, the sinewy coffee, but the genteel art of tea making itself has been all but sabotaged by our time-constrained lifestyles.
Tepid tea, (whatever happened to tea-cosies?) just this side of being too anaemic or too vigorous, is the norm at most places. Tea brewing is a lost art that even tea timers haven’t been able to revive (those aging relics that lie there, unused, taunting tea drinkers; and then fading a little more into oblivion as they realise the futility of their efforts). Tea strainers are further dying remains of the classic tea trolley. So, even potentially good cups of tea will quickly take on a bizarre, almost bovine experience as one chews the leaves along with each sip.
The silver lining in all this post modern annihilation of the elegant art of tea making is the teatime legacy my sisters and I have carried into our lives. Having grown up in a home where tea and the accompanying panoply was the norm, this has been a delightful happenstance. Teatime at home consisted of lavish spreads of everything from pastries and sandwiches to biscuits and dahi bhallas*. And of course it meant steaming pots upon pots of Kenyan tea laced ever so delicately with earl grey. It became an affair, synonymous with togetherness, laughter and chatter. A time for capricious banter and tender confidences- a caffeine-warmed embrace of the ebb and flow of our lives. And at the centre of this lovely intimacy was my mother, the gracious matriarch who made this teatime magic happen.
In conclusion, of all the tea connoisseurs/ growers/ curators of the experience on the island, I ask that you breathe fresh life into this exquisite tradition. It is the assured panacea to many a dreadful day, of which sadly, we have all seen our fair share lately. In the words of Bernard-Paul Heroux, “There is no trouble so great or so grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea”; the “nice” there being replete with all manner of ambrosial and soul and spirit uplifting possibilities.
*Dahi Bhalla: a savoury, yogurt-based snack indigenous to the subcontinent.
We have all, at some time or another been overwhelmed, overpowered, bested by our grief, anxiety and wretchedness. At those times, some of us have also been lucky enough to have that one place where we have, for a while, found some degree of quietude and peace. This is a tribute to those secret little places and spaces of comfort and healing in our lives.
There is this wooden bench I like
It’s not fancy; quite the common type.
Cloaked in by the dappled canopy
Of a gracefully pirouetting Mara tree,
It sits in the park like a dear old friend
It’s well-worn embrace ever welcoming.
A young couple walks up, caught in the grips of wrath
Love is lost; it’s the wretched aftermath;
Words are exchanged until the fury’s spent
Frustration - Anxiety - Sadness - Silence.
Then they sit down on the wooden bench ...
Gradually, muscles relax and nerves untense.
Even if it is a passing interlude,
Loads are lightened; hearts are soothed.
Wild flowers grow lushly around its feet
Bobbing bright heads to Earth’s vital beat.
The bench sits there like a quiet friend
It’s well-worn seat ever welcoming.
A man sits down in a state of unease
Holding on to his hat in an errant breeze.
He picks up his phone and looks at the screen;
The unlit glass reflects the tranquil scene ...
He looks up and around him his brow somewhat eased
Fleeting albeit, he’s found his moment of peace.
Songful birds and their terrestrial friends
Roam warbling and chittering around the bench;
Hoping for a serendipitously fallen treat
They browse busily around the seat.
A wheelchair-bound man looks up at an overcast sky;
His female companion already has water in her eyes.
They sit side by side in worlds of their own
Reminisnce weighs heavy of days that are gone ...
A mynah trills as a light drizzle falls
And a sweet petrichor briefly dispels the pall.
The man looks at her, takes her hand and she smiles
For now they’re alright; tomorrow is still a while.
I too have sat in Nature’s restoring arms
On that bench where she weaves her alchemical charms.
I too have unburdened my hopes and my fears
I too have laid my bursting heart bare;
And I have heard her soothing murmurs
That have quietened my deepest despair.
I’ve looked into her soft eyes from that corner in the park
For a time, my soul too has emerged from the dark;
The clouds have parted; the sun has shone through
And I’ve breathed more easily, sitting on that wooden pew.
It seems like the great American nation has been roundly cursed with the evil eye; like the hexes and insidious incantations of overtly and covertly jealous nations are finally beginning to take effect. Indeed, the star spangled banner is looking increasingly tattered as it waves in the buffeting, tearing winds of change.
Or it could be that Uncle Sam is finally reaping as he has sowed for much of the last 200 years. Demon seeds of racism, inequality and toxic individualism are now putting out chokehold tendrils as the country grapples with not only the pandemic but also a social fabric that appears to be coming apart at the seams.
The road rage episode and the mass shootings, 3 tragic incidences in rapid succession, appear to be the tip of a now grumbling, grousing iceberg. At least two of the three acts of terrorism were perpetrated by young men barely out of adolescence. It isn’t difficult to form a reasonable hypothesis about what has happened. Here’s my informed conjecture:
The 4 year Trump presidency unleashed an era of brute honesty that was heretofore unprecedented. Contrary to the popular sentiment rife amongst his detractors, he was not the cause of the social mayhem that is playing out in America; he was in fact that pariah magician that reveals the deepest, darkest secrets of his trade to the masses. And so, with grandiose fanfare (aided in no small measure by the force of his absurdly narcissistic personality) he exposed the festering underbelly of the great American nation.
The American dream was shown up for what it really was – a utopian ideology pandering exclusively to the whitest and the most dogmatic denominator of the citizenry. With the raw truth finally seeing the light of day, social chaos was bound to follow. The pandemic of course hasn’t made it easier, innervated by the stunningly ridiculous outrage of the average American at having to take precautions for the greater good of the community. What the whole world is seeing is an America that is no more than a loose amalgamation of individuals who are living together as long as they are not expected to sacrifice their space, their time or their right to go maskless wherever they please. It appears that the concept of community in its true sense has dissolved into defiant, impenitent individualism quite some time ago.
The ones hit the hardest by this disruption of everyday civility and tolerance are the infirm elderly and the hormonal young adults. The former have little in terms of strength or capacity to fight off the virus, biological and social. The latter however, on the threshold of newfound independence and the unlimited freedom America promises, are flexing their muscles with the brute abandon of untrained warriors. With no outlet for their bursting world of expectations, these hapless young men didn’t entertain second or third thoughts about their actions. Call it frustration, guns for the taking, or an explosive coming of age, the fact is that they felt empowered, indeed emboldened enough to kill. They went down the path affording them the greatest adrenaline rush to appease their heightened agitation with the suddenly stifling world around them. Can you blame them for their actions? Not if this was an ethical society that had accepted its failings as a protector and nurturer of its people. But like so many other morally failed and failing nations, America too will blame the messenger (the hapless killer) for the insidious last note he delivered. A note crafted and etched into the social fabric by a successive line of self serving politicians masquerading as statesmen (Ladies: thy counteracting wisdom is still in short order). And so, the Machiavellian state passes on its treacherous buck to its citizens, making them pay for its moral bankruptcy.
While psychologists and sociologists may have a plethora of whys, wherefores and what-to-dos on the current American condition, there is one thing that stands out like a sore thumb. A simple soreness that if healed, can stop the gangrenous decay from befouling the rest of the body politic. Basic compassion and a sense of community. If there’s one thing that we in the global backwaters with our emotionally replete cultures know, it’s a deep sense of community: a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together**. These are simple overtures of our humanity that have got lost in the grand American pursuit of individual freedom.
Now more than ever, the Union will benefit from reaching out and offering psychological support to the young and the old, the marginalised and those living on the peripheries of society. I’m not speaking of divisive, half baked gun control laws or grand multi trillion dollar conciliatory, tranquilizing, short-lived plans of rehabilitation and reparation. I’m referring to something as simple as the mushrooming of wayside safe havens/ Conversation Kiosks where people can come in and just talk through the turmoil in their hearts and their minds. The vestigial need to connect, to be acknowledged, to see oneself as part of a bigger, better, vibrant whole, are essential in identifying and addressing agitation, loneliness and hopelessness – all three, treacherous inciters of discontent and violence. Getting the nation to open up at grassroot levels, having them exorcise the demons of alienation and social marginlization, giving them a sense of communal purpose appears to be the likely and unsurprisingly elemental panacea to the great American unrest.
And so, my prayer for the socially and psychologically battered people of the United States is for them to find the strength to finally accept one another for who they are; to unlearn the hate for those who don’t look like them and see the beauty in diversity. For everyone to finally feel like part of a bigger community, not the black, not the brown not the white denominators, but the American community. It doesn’t have to be pitch perfect; it just has to be real and it has to be taught to be aspirational. And with that, there will be ever greater hope for true peace and prosperity for all.
**Quote from McMillan and Chavis (1986) “Sense of Community”
It’s the little joys in life
That lift and hug the soul;
It’s the little brushes with sublimity
That paint the rosiest strokes
It’s the steaming mugs of tea shared
With a friend, over confidences and laughter;
The mugs wrapped in hands as warm as the hearts
That are bonding, ministering, healing ... and after
Memorializing that perfect little moment of joy.
It’s the sudden cool breeze that caresses the cheek
And then wraps me up in its vital embrace;
It’s the happy burst of a monsoon shower
As she dances and cleanses; prances and quenches
Leaving behind her intoxicating petrichor
In a joyful bouquet of nostalgia and grace
It’s the intrepid, songful, mirthful mynah
That unexpectedly struts right up to my feet
Warbling of little delights; trilling with all her might
Laying her little heart bare in melodious refrain
It’s the big, big soul in that fragile frame
That reminds me of the precious little joys.
It’s the beautiful Sakura tree, bounteous in its white and pink
Waiting for a wayward breeze to stir up her flower-bedecked limbs;
It is seeing the frolicsome duo of tree and breeze
Create magic in a moment they mutually seize
As the blossoms flutter down in lusty effusion
Covering the ground with inflorescent profusion
An enchanting, enthralling moment of joy.
It’s little kindnesses wrought in the moment
A helping hand on a busy street,
A warm smile in the milieu of rushing feet
A tender word to the transiently fallen
A little something more for the lonely and forgotten
It’s seeing this shared transcendental camaraderie
That gives me that small little rush of joy.
It’s looking up into a clear night sky
And finding Orion and Taurus winking up high
It’s watching the Big Dipper look tenderly upon
Little Ursa Minor nestling just under the moon
It’s seeing our little world from the vastness of space
That fills me with joy and bolsters my faith
The quickening string that binds us all
Our whole web of life; all living creatures
Are these startlingly simple acts of joy
These wondrous, alchemical creations of nature
It’s this coming together of life’s vital energy
That lifts and elates with its mystical synergy
This is the mannah that nurtures the soul
Mending our cracks and making us whole.
Earlier this year, after decades, the island of Sri Lanka welcomed the Pakistani cricketing legend of yore. Thankfully, the political mantle is still too new to disenchant the international fan base. Not that I think he is a corrupt bag of officious bones in the manner peculiar to many of his South Asian compatriots and indeed, his very own predecessors. No, he’s just a little soft in the head; a natural affliction, I have come to believe, when one decides to not go down the oft trodden path of political corruption and depravity. The cerebral mush of course, leads to an entirely different set of bureaucratic disasters. The long and short of it is that Imran Khan’s heart is in the right place but his brain is an addled brew of eye of newt, and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog*... And so, even with the best of intentions, the empire double doubles, toils and troubles!* But i digress… and can you blame me! Like everyone else in our beleaguered country, I too am a devoted armchair warrior and am wont to vent.
So why did our PM Imran Khan visit Sri Lanka?
What an interesting question, full of intrigue and the promise of riveting conspiracy theories (rubbing my hands gleefully and wanting to quote more eccentric old world verse!)
So here’s my take on it. The global power structure is gradually changing, and the South Asian bloc wants to be ready to play its part. Colonially-seeded geographical antagonism is seeming more and more irrelevant and incongruous as our unipolar world dithers on its North American weighted axis. As the US struggles with its burgeoning domestic issues, its inconvenient truths, it seems less and less likely to hold the moral mantle of global leadership. And when that dignity, skin deep though it may be, is shaken, the fall of the rest of the edifice is not far behind. No one wants to be told what to do by someone who can’t keep peace in their own backyard. And so, when some little but worthy nation somewhere tells Uncle Sam to mind his own business, we need to be ready to play our parts in catalysing the new equilibrium. Who those game-changing tRICksters* will be, is anyone’s guess. What is pertinent is that success will depend on there being some semblance of peace and harmony between the mighty neighbours of the Eastern hemisphere. And that peace has to begin ground up; with the smaller warring nations politely brought to heel first, so to speak. And so it was that on a swarthy February day, in the golden arms of the south Asian tear drop island, Pakistan was brought into the loop of the Global Reset. Because having two bickering nuclear armed neighbours in the region is generally not favourable to the efficacy of grand plans. And so, a meeting of the two estranged sisters, India and Pakistan, was arranged.
It is also interesting to note that hot on the heels of the Pak PM’s visit, the citizenry was treated to rather strategic Indo-SL combined military aerobatics, showcasing the battling might of mostly the Indian airforce. A polite but stratospherically overt reiteration that while there is some appetite for absurd but fit-to-current-form alliances, it’s best not to forget who the Saber Holders are and who the Saber Rattlers are.
All this of course is a funny-feeling-in-the-gut conjecture; the waxing eloquent of conspiracy theories. But these days, when truth has so often been stranger than fiction, the civic mingling of sworn enemies is not such a far fetched ideal. The proof of the gesture will of course be in how the two neighbours deal with each other going forward. (Watch out for startlingly long periods of peace along usually tempestuous/ skirmish-ridden borders).
Wade Davis’ words are a reverberating mantra for our times when he said, “No empire long endures, even if few anticipate their demise. Every kingdom is born to die. The 15th century belonged to the Portuguese, the 16th to Spain, 17th to the Dutch. France dominated the 18th and Britain the 19th. [By the 20th century], the torch had long passed into the hands of America”.
Let’s hope America continues to scratch the surface of its domestic/ social inequities, leaving little power vacuums across the globe. Let’s also hope that the Prodigal Sons of the East (daughters are in scarce order!) rise to the occasion. When the time comes, it will take a concerted effort of going against the grain of everything we know to be our patriotic truths, to seed a new epoch.
*eye of newt.... verse quoted from Shakespeare’s Macbeth
*tRICksters: the RIC in the word stands for the 3 global powerhouses of Russia, India and China.
A gender-optimal philosophy for more effective, ethical and harmonious global leadership
I’ve been thinking. Not quite in the usual staring into space for a moment or four, while wispy little disconnected thoughts do a bit of a foxtrot around the noggin. But more akin to the aftermath of a persistent intuition, a nagging logic that marches around the brain until one’s forced to contend with it. And so this opinion piece has come stridently into the light of day, hoping to give some pause for thought, or at the very least, to become part of the endless, reverberating ether of information.
World Leadership. That cunning, convoluted beast that has taken on a form that neither the gods of war (NATO) nor the cormorants of peace (the UN) nor any semblance of a half way evolved human ethic would have ever envisioned for it. From hiding in its dank, dark cave because some post facto stab of conscience made it scurry back, it now proudly, fearlessly, openly dons the mantle of bigotry and apathy. It struts about our borders, spies into our lives and tosses a western grenade when neighbours become too peaceful. That beast has to be fed and war is its nutriment of choice.
I don’t want to go on a prolonged impassioned whinge about the state of our lives and indeed our very species as the Cognocentibus – the original Intelligent Beings that have somehow gone awry. That understanding and knowledge now is like organized religion: after thousands of years of wrangling with querulous belief systems, everyone knows what there is to know, yet there is power in creating ever new vacuums of faith and filling them with ever more profitable doctrines of fire and brimstone. And so it is with the way we behave with one another across our planet. We know the ultimate panacea is some semblance of peace and equality for all; but that’s no fun when you’re riding the Cock Horse to Banbury Cross* and can partake of over USD 90 trillion dollars* of global riches on the way.
So what am i really getting at?
A changed world order. I won’t say new; that would be naive and ideological and by those very facts, impossible to achieve. But i will say, modernised, reconditioned, improved. Here’s what I believe will at the very least, begin to bring about some viability, some sanity and some heart into our lives.
–No MAN over the age of 65 should run for the office of President or Prime Minister. More and more we see how the patriarchal septuagenarians and their seniors have doggedly held on to mores and codes which are not only outright dogmatic and sexist, but increasingly at odds with mainstream thought and ethics. The barely veiled misogyny and racism in the hearts of the fagged and ageing US congressmen are a sputtering but compelling beacon for other similarly inclined world leaders. And it was difficult to miss Japan’s 83 year old ex PM, Mori’s absurdly sexist comment made recently in his capacity as the 2020 Olympics Head https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/2/12/tokyo-2020-chief-yoshiro-mori-resigns-over-sexist-comments . It is time for these seniors to sit back, dated ideals and all, and let the global human equation finally begin to re-evolve.
–At least 40% of all senior political appointees to be women. We have some absolutely scintillating examples of wise and wonderful female leadership: Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, Angela Merkel of Germany and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia to name a few. However, women serve as Heads of State or Government in only 21 countries, and 119 countries have never had a woman leader. As of October 2019, the global participation rate of women in national-level parliaments was less than 25%, with only 14 countries having achieved 50 per cent or more women in cabinets (unwomen.org). More than two-thirds of these countries have applied gender quotas – either legislated candidate quotas or reserved seats – opening space for women’s political participation in national parliaments. With some concerted effort, these indices can be made more representative of global male/female population ratios. Indeed, it is high time for women to resolutely take the other half of the global leadership reins.
–Head of State tenures to be capped at 5 years at one time, with the opportunity to run again after at least 5 years, for no more than another half a decade. This will serve to discourage self serving oligarchs and quell dynastic politics. The shortness of the tenure and with it, the duly limited opportunity for power-mongering will mean that only the serious nation builders will apply for the job of running a country. This will, in time, spearhead the creation of a new brand of Statesmen and women who will safeguard the interests of all their people while leading their nations to peace and prosperity.
–Every Executive Government position holder and parliamentarian to undergo Executive courses on World History covering the last 500 years, with special emphasis on how their particular region has impacted or was impacted by the events therein. This would entail essential courses on colonialism, slavery, the wars of the 19th and 20th centuries and their respective aftermaths. A specially designated, international body of scholars will keep the content of these courses true and relevant to the times. This simple yet critical geo-political prescript will help to bring about global baseline knowledge and sensitivity around some essential truths that are still dogging the socio-cultural fabrics of so many nations. Reparation and healing will then begin top down, via an informed, “woke” and upstanding world leadership.
There is much to be said for the sadly dismal distribution of global wealth and the vulgarity of the Billionaire concept in our current times. But that will require more than just a shift of quotas and governance standards as these are the very themes considered as stalwart markers of success and happiness. It will take a few generations of unlearning to erase the greed that is now inherently a part of our DNA. And for that reason, I am not putting it down as a current critical imperative; the prescribed hopeful/ logical/ nuanced global administrative change will gradually take care of it.
In the aftermath of the last 4 years and indeed post the apocalyptic past year of the Pandemic, I’m hoping, like so many others, that our humanity, the simple homogeneity of our species and Better Sense prevails. I’m hoping that by embracing the best parts of our human collective, we can finally create a better world for ourselves and for our children; that we can finally be more than just ghosts in our dated, jaded, cracking shells.
*Ghost(s) in the Shell: title inspiration from the American adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s original 1989 manga/ Japanese anime of the same name.
*”Ride a cock horse...”: part of an old English nursery rhyme
*USD 90 trillion: the approximate USD value of global GDP as of 2020
It was slow I admit, the glimmerings of a connection with the ST-DS9* characters and their Deep Space shenanigans. But by season 2, I had developed a mild fondness for the Captain and his Federation crew. And by season 4, the affection I felt for the space Station denizens was deep-rooted and personal. By season 5, I was already forlornly anticipating the end of the series and feeling at odds with the rest of the Netflix science fiction repertoire.
That is not to say that i was blinded to the obvious shortcomings of the production; they just became tenderly blurred as the characters became increasingly larger than life. I still remember cringing slightly during season 1 and wondering for the 347th time why i felt such a compelling commitment to see every series through, dubious and otherwise, that I’ve embarked on. Here’s what I remember even as I dredge up the memories from the practical, unemotional series-bingeing depths of my mind:
The characters were more than a tad over-dramatic – Captain Sisko often comes across as a stand up comic endearingly poking fun at would-be space bigwigs; while the good Doctor Bashir appears so entranced by his own look, feel and sound that one would be forgiven for mistaking him for the English, Space version of a Doogie Howser impersonator. Major Kira (Colonel now!) is relentless in her adolescent knee jerk outbursts of anger, vengeance and the insatiable need to be the biggest bully in the Alpha quadrant…. nah… all Space. Then there are the dated special effects: the barely camouflaged fluorescent primary coloured lights blinking on 24th century tricorders and control panels; the landing/ disembarkation pads which look like ponderous railway tunnels; the defiant, brave little ships in space, dithering ever so slightly against their starry backdrop – trembling reminders of their actual minuscule size and mass; the phasers and other laser weapons put to shame by the contents of aisle 15 in Toys ‘r’ Us. But…. like i said, i had to laboriously dig up these first and not so lasting impressions.
What I do remember effortlessly is the superb characterisation of Quark the quintessential Ferengi who’d grown a heart and a bit of a conscience over the course of the 7 seasons; Garak who was as devious and resourceful as he was genteel and intrepid; Dukat the bipolar Cardsassian who fought a war of conscience for most of the 7 seasons, finally relenting with a Bajoran bow and a twisted flourish to his dark side; Weyoun, the Gamma quadrant clone who was as duplicitous as he was “god-fearing”; and of course Vic Fontaine, a holographic throwback to the 1960s Las Vegas rat pack style entertainment who was as good a singer as he was a psychothera-pal for the DS9 crew. All in all, the alien characters of DS9 delivered a far superior performance to that of their human counterparts.
The piece de resistance of the series however, is definitely its ability to take its viewers on a compelling, emotional journey into the lives of its main characters. The cloak and dagger plots set a million light years away from earth still took place in what was essentially a little town with its very own set of the good, the bad and the alien. And that was ultimately what made the series so memorable.
Other Deep Space Distillations:
-The mainstream ethics/ moral compass portrayed by the Federation of planets, while being lofty and aspirational by our boorish 21st century standards, was still shown to be insidiously riddled with intrigue and deception; its Section 31 dutifully and covertly performing all its ungallant business. I suppose some things are so hard-wired into our psyche, a basic distrust of anyone different from ourselves being at the top of that list, that no amount of evolution and sophistication can wring it out of our DNA.
-America, as is customary across the Hollywood universe, bravely endeavoured to save the day or lead from the front. And so unremarkably, Uncle Sam continued to fill in most of the shoes of the DS9 and the Federation nawabs*.
-I discovered a new-found love for Frank Sinatra’s soulful crooning. I’ve had his vocal jazz and swing numbers on quick recall on my phone for the last fortnight. Vic’s repository of the legendary tunes pulls at all the heart strings!
-The MC at Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony sounded eerily like Worf, the Klingon!
I watched the last show of the last season last night. A net total of 176 episodes viewed, imbibed and psychoanalysed nostalgically during the last 4 weeks. Almost made me forget we’re in the middle of a pandemic as I traversed through space and time with the crew and the citizens of Deep space 9/ Terek Nor.
I leave you with a nostalgic old Sinatra refrain sung by DS9’s own Vic Fontaine, just because it’s such a lovely old song and even half a millennium on, it resonated richly, poignantly, on a space station somewhere in our cosmos.
*ST-DS9: Star Trek – Deep Space 9
*Nawab: a male title which literally means Viceroy; the female equivalent is “Begum” or “Nawab Begum”. The primary duty of a Nawab was to uphold the sovereignty of the Mughal emperor along with the administration of a certain province. In modern times, it is often used to denote men of power.
I have now been using these four-stroke creatures to transport me around the island for the last 5 years, and I have to say that we’ve developed quite a lovely (e)motional symbiosis. They take me where I have to go, and I help them log a part of their daily distance while we both also get in a bit of a quaint conversation. The tuk tuk chatter ranges from Imran Khan’s political likability (he’s at least universally loved by the SL 3-wheeler brigade), to expertly compressed 6 minute summaries of their lives delivered amidst unexpected swerves, dodges and lurches, as my driver looks back during the choicest parts of his particular narration. I react congenially enough until imminent death threatens our largely blindly-pitching carnival of drama. Then I don my mother superior mantle, cut my voluble driver short and tell him if he doesn’t focus on getting me to my destination still in possession of my earthly form, that I will disembark right there, right then. That works, because losing a “hire” is almost as bad as having an animated conversation killed at its apex – this tuk tuk double whammy is a thing to be avoided at all costs. So the rest of the journey continues in inhaling the toxic and nauseating but thankfully silent, and undramatic fumes of over-taking vehicles.
Tuk Tuk drivers come in all manner of forms, from the road runners to the pavement huggers and a whole colorful gamut in between. There are the staid, honest types who drive in sedate silence (a perrenial favourite and an increasing rarity); the sly, intrepid ones who will take you on wildly circuitous routes to your destination; the meter cheaters who with undisguised enthusiasm will punch in 10 extra buttons on the instrument to awaken the tuk tuk Beast of Deceit; the MI6 Hall of Famers who will glance suspiciously at every other vehicle they pass, with special x-ray vision scans reserved for when they stop at traffic lights. The ones that are big fans of external trappings, their carriages outfitted with WiFi, a DVD player, a 15 inch monitor, sanitizer, a tissue box and, wait for it…. seatbelts! The nervous, anxious ones driving barely intact tuk tuks that groan and whine in anguished protest – (I tend to tip them the most generously. My sentimental, rooting-for-the-underdog knee jerk reactions continue to be alive and well). The Goodwill Ambassador who will, over the 10 minute ride, deliver a heart warming speech on the goodness of his countrymen and the many wonderful bounties of his paradise isle. Then there are the tenacious shopping mall 3-wheeler brigades with ethics that are as dubious as they themselves are territorial – one has to spew some quantities of brimstone and hellfire to get out of their clutches; also probably the only contingent that all the other tuk tuk drivers hesitate to lock their … headlights with!
This endearingly sensationalist lot also believes in pithy, public declarations of the meaning and gist of their lives, emblazoned as they are on their autos. There’s a sweet, almost nostalgic obsession with certain historical personages and quaint adaptations of favored English idioms: Like Che Guevara who always wants the tuk tuk contingent to rebel; Bob Marley who would like them to forget their woes in most likely, a moonshine-steeped, reggae-rocked weekend. Then there is the tuk tuk driver throwing out a barefaced challenge asserting “if you’re bad, I’m your dad“; or the one who’s had it with arrogance saying “fly not high so you fall not low“; or the myriad others who loudly declare that their hearts are up (on their tuk tuk behinds) for the taking, and as many more who have publicly closed themselves to love… certain lady passengers always being an exception!
On wet days, of which there are many on this tropical island, the rickshaw drivers will race home largely oblivious to the desperate hails of rain-soaked pedestrians. The ones with a flair for a bit of perverse drama, will even pretend to slow down and then rev up almost immediately, leaving momentarily buoyed spirits crashing into the puddles forming all around; revelling in the reversal of the supply/ demand structure for the course of the monsoon torrent. I have tended to see the comic relief in this too as I have been lured and then abandoned by the fickle advance and departure of an unoccupied tuk tuk. Like they say, everyone needs their own particular form of catharsis!
As colourful and varied as the character spectrum is on these public carriers, they, one and all, manage to go where no other/ bulkier vehicles can. Through nooks and crannies, brushing, with millimetres to spare, past a lumbering bus, racing down paths barely wide enough for 2 people to walk abreast. There is something of a mild urban censure of these contorting asphalt plyers – many say, a menace on Colombo’s narrow roads that are already burgeoning with their automotive burdens. But for us, the carless, environment-preserving lot (inadvertent as this reduced CO2 footprint state of being may be!) they are our reasons for remaining happily mobile across our neighbourhood geographies.
And so, as I spend my days roaming the city in between bouts of reading, writing and grocery shopping, I have formed an almost affectionate bond with the tuk tuk posse of the metropolis. Despite the ravages wrought by the pandemic of 2020, they remain optimistic, enterprising, courageous and cheerfully defiant on the roads. I still call them out for over-charging, they still respond with outlandish excuses but together we go pitching and careening across the city in a haze of mutual appreciation.
Getting around the island by Tuk or by Crook!
I probably would not have been able to write this piece as intrepidly as I am doing now had I been in the motherland. And therein lies the basis of the conundrum that is our religion: an ideology that is deeply, consumingly rooted in loathsome patriarchy with a formidable intolerance for debate and discussion.
1400 years after the Prophet Muhammad brought the message of peace, tolerance, equality and most importantly, the elevation of the status of women in the fabric of our religious and social structures, we have not only forgotten the essence of that message, but have regressed in ways that would be considered somewhat extreme even in the wild misogyny of ancient Arabia. Islam, in the developing world, led ideologically by our oil-rich Arab brethren, has degenerated into a cacophony of fear mongering, at the heart of which is a gender bias so sick, it is boggling to the mind in the 21st century. So embedded is that illogical, bald-faced chauvinism that its nefarious cultural roots are no longer visible in the milleu of religious (mis)interpretation and ritual. In the masterful manipulation of all organized religions, Wahabi/ orthodox Islam too wields its power by staunching all debate that questions its ethical and moral viability for the current times – for to question is to be a Kafir* and thus branded, you may be exposed to the unwitting but ferocious wrath of the rest of the believers; or if you’re lucky enough to escape that gory end, you are forever a pariah in the fatherland.
I consider myself privileged for growing up in that little bubble of sanity that floats just atop the rest of the malignant mass that is our socio-religious national fabric today. Our generation of females in the family, led by absolutely prodigious women of substance, has been bestowed with those critically strategic opportunities to break through the debilitating and handicapping proverbial glass, nay granite ceiling. We have been raised to believe that the only people who are better than us are those who bring more to the the table as human beings, and that does not include their inadvertent Y chromosome. And yet, during my time working in the corporate sector which is known for its gender inclusivity with its strategic human capital goals of at least 45/55 percent female to male ratios, I was reminded on not infrequent occasions, that to be a man regardless of your professional acumen was to have a clear advantage. One example of this state-sponsored misogyny is the weight/ bearing of a woman’s signature on a legal document. Two female signatures are required for every one male signature for the document to hold up in a court of law. And so on more occasions than I care to remember, the resident tea boy who had nothing to do with the legal gambit or the event (except for the steaming cups of tea in our hands) has put down his testosterone-fortified signature as a legal witness, because I, the woman who was leading the charge on the matter, was not deemed fit enough by our state legislatures to understand it as well as any male can, including our tea boy – who, quite frankly, was a good soul but had limited knowledge of BPRD* circulars and responses to the State bank.
And so this system of overt bias is perpetuated to keep our gender from ever reaching its full potential – an unmitigating stream of psychological and jurisdictive attacks cloaked in fuzzy patriarchy to keep 50% of the country in a constant state of entropy.
Despite these disabling encumberances, our generation has forged ahead – thinking, questioning and expanding our minds and our hearts to become more of the emotionally, mentally and spiritually replete beings that we inherently are. This has also led to a sizeable denominator of women being essentially left in limbo viz-a- viz workable/ aspirational personal philosophies. On the one hand, the religious and cultural ideologies of their forefathers no longer fit their lives in any manner that is respectful, empowering and enriching; on the other hand, any discourse or analysis that could lead to a more gracious and inclusive embodiment of religious tenets is tantamount to sacrilege. This is the state of half the population of the Muslim world; the state of almost a billion people on the planet. I am one of those women.
As we continue to the top of the personal ideological food chain, the number of denizens occupying those upper tiers get very much fewer. The ironic paradox with this food chain is that the apex means surefire disenfranchisement, backlash and predation. Like I said, it is still a rare privilege to be born a female in a truly enlightened Muslim family – I am grateful to be one of those. But our numbers are few and the patriarchal landscape is vast and riddled with a hatred for dissidents that has only become more fanatical through the centuries. However, every revolution of the hearts and the minds begins with a few intrepid idiots calling out the injustice and the oppression. I am also one of those women.
And so I’m diving into my ideological debate with some essential satire on a salient reward of the Hereafter; a lustful vision so unashamedly made synonymous with goodness that it has compelled the righteous to decimate entire populations and on frequent occasions, themselves too: the 72 Hurs or splendid female companions of Paradise. Promised to every believer. I’m a believer and I think I’m a good human being; (I’m also as straight as they come!) So is that vision, touted as it is in every inspirational Khutbah*, an enticing end to a life well lived? I’m going to hazard a guess on behalf of us Muslim women who are almost a billion strong: Nah!
The religious conversation needs to evolve beyond the all male-corridors of our masjids*; beyond erotic visions of the afterlife as the penultimate reward, to a wholesome, dignified ideology of life itself.
It is time, ladies and gentlemen, to take Islam out of the Neanderthal man caves into the light of the 21st century.
*Hur: a “splendid female companion” in the afterlife epitomising the spoils of a righteously led life for every devout Muslim man
*Kafir: unbeliever/ infidel. The term refers to a person who rejects or disbelieves in God as per Islam
*BPRD: Banking Policy and Regulations Department of the State Bank dictating the rules of business engagement for all banks
*Khutbah: A Muslim sermon that is delivered at places of worship mainly on Fridays which are considered holy days in Islam
*Masjid: Islamic places of worship predominantly visited by only men.
It has now been over 6 years since i decided to take a sabbatical if you will, from my corporate career. I embarked on it more in the spirit of a healing process (life had thrown a few curveballs at me in 2012/13), rather than a wild abandonment of the work rigour, resulting precariously also, in the sudden and definitive staunching of a hitherto steady income!
Even so here i am, half a decade on, happier and probably somewhat healthier and wiser too! However, you can take a person out of the corporate halls of slog, but you can’t take the corporate exactitude out of the person. And so, i have over the last 5 years, approached all my experiences across the service industry spectrum, from the hospitality to the airline to the internet service providers with my customer experience hat adroitly perched upon my head. I have, quite a while ago, given up even the pretence of being a congenial, everyday customer with a heart full of forgiveness and a kind blurriness of mind reserved especially for appalling episodes of experiential breakdown. I notice everything and while i have made earnest efforts to not treat every service gaffe/ misdemeanour like it was committed by a flawlessly trained prodigy, i do pick my “service battles” from the point of view of identifying those likely eliciting the maximum bang for the buck. So while i won’t voice the mental angst of grossly delayed service followed by fumbling/ bumbling remedial efforts, I will respectfully opine on the myriad different withdrawal regulations that are applied to my NRFC* account – each disparate rule a tribute to its creative forger and executor of the day. The subsequent explanations to central bank auditors could make for a whole new banking science fiction genre; not to mention the plethora of post facto documentary and explanatory toil that I, the customer, would likely have to undertake to help the institution to regularise its stream of inadvertent but almost lovingly repeated foibles.
And so, to cut to the chase, i’ll go right to the helm of affairs – to the leadership of the organisation. That seat of power that can make or break the best and the worst of enterprises.
So what does a good Management Team do to create organisational success?
There are a few simple but utterly alchemical factors here that can convert even a seemingly jinxed piece of corporate enterprise into a decent success. I will explain each in successive blog posts.
Creating and Nurturing a Distinct Organisational Culture: There have been a couple of times, (twice for those inclined to use “couple” to mean a scattering!) where i have become part of a company culture where i felt like i was working for a home enterprise. The work environment being so disparate across the board that it ranged from an all out gestapo reenactment in one unit, to a space bubble with barely a shared ethos among its occupants, in another. And although the 2 units were highly dependent on each other in a particular product value chain, the twain barely ever met in purpose, harmony or delivery. Left unchecked, this work culture dissonance had added over a month to the end to end delivery turnaround time of the particular service. Complaints were rife; staff had been changed multiple times; bonuses were withheld. But despite the best of intentions, the issue stuck like the karmic backlash of a past life. Simply because there was no defined work culture, ethos or a shared Big Picture.
This work culture incongruity is a death knell for companies, especially in the service industry where, unlike in consumer goods producing FMCGs*, the end-user gratification is a sum total of their experience at that point in time with the organisation. Think of opening an account at a bank; your entire takeaway is nothing more than the knowledge that you have a new account in a particular bank underscored by the experience that accompanied that fact. Therefore, leaving the objectives of a mid-sized to large corporation undefined to its daily drivers and facilitators translates into the inevitable gross dilution of end-user experience that in time leaves nothing of the original/ intended USPs* of the company
Enter the dual magic of the Vision and Mission Statements*. These vessels allow management to clearly, concisely and effectively embody not only the existential purpose of the company; but also right to the T, what it means to be a part of the company as staff, customer, supplier and advertiser. (I’m personally not a big fan of shareholder stakes being vocalised in these statements). Building focused understanding, enthusiasm and energy behind these formal statements help to create and perpetuate a distinct company culture. People respond because by nature we are social creatures, and these statements of purpose then become the catalyst for nurturing a community of professionals with a clear unified end goal. A robust company culture though, is not a static thing. While the primary values remain unchanged (e.g. an FI’s* focus on technology, accessibility and financial security), the culture around those values is ever evolving to successfully accommodate the continuous diversity of its people, systems, customers and the external environment. The openness to change needs to be learnt/ imbibed at the get-go; imparted with veracity, in the very earliest of company orientation training programs.
Company management, the ManCom*, is the rightful custodian of the Vision and Mission statements; while every staff is the practical incumbent. In the best organisations, Management role models these values in visible ways to give them meaning, relevance, and to embed them into the DNA of the organisation at large. A game-changing organzational culture is one where its staff members are recognizable almost anywhere in the positivity of their bearing, attitude and pride of affiliation. For me, one such organisation was ABN AMRO bank in the late 90s into the mid 2000s in Pakistan. It was a poster child for hitherto unknown brands taking the market by storm; and continues to be a professional alma mater for so many even after it has ceased to exist in that particular market.
And so, a cohesive organisational culture which brings people together into a work community of purpose, is the first cornerstone of an organisation that successfully leads the charge and is able to cement its position as a leader in the industry.
*NRFC account: Non Resident Foreign Currency account
*FMCG: Fast Moving Consumer Goods
*USP: Unique Selling Proposition
*Vision and Mission statements: A Mission Statement defines the company’s business, its objectives and its approach to reach those objectives. A Vision Statement describes the desired future position of the company. Elements of Mission and Vision Statements are often combined to provide a statement of the company’s purposes, goals and values.
*FI: Financial Institution
*ManCom: corporate parlance for the Management Committee
I’ve been meaning to put this hitherto confusing, emotionally wounding mass of thoughts to paper for a while now. So far, through all the varied attempts over the last 10 years, I’ve always choked on the words in my mind; cocooned in a kind of benumbing Writer’s Block if you will.
So here i am today, feeling a little more intrepid, a tad more emotionally sound and spurred on by a medley of bittersweet reminiscences, to finally reflect on the vital importance of End of Life acceptance, dignity and preparedness.
To die is inevitable; to lead a life well-lived is a choice. And yet, we leave so much to providence while we can still exercise our power to choose, and put up formidable bulwarks of resistance when faced with the inevitable. This is a construct and a bullheaded perpetuation of our modern times, urged on by medical advances and their preserving effect on our life expectancy. While we are living longer, we have also developed an almost combative relationship with the End of Life. Even when everything is pointing towards the inevitable final exit, we choose to fight. We push back, we suffer, we agonize and we degrade, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually as we try and keep the “monster” at bay. A lot of times, that militancy is dispensed by the people closest to the terminally ill; and despite their good intentions, end up reducing their already suffering loved ones to little more than vulgarised shadows of their former selves.
In 2008, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. She lived with the disease for four years with the dignity, grace and courage of the superwoman that she was. Never once did she put on the mantle of the reduced or the afflicted or the invalid. Right to the end, she remained the gracious matriarch of her warm, welcoming home. Towards the end, the final two days to be exact, when she should have been allowed to make that Final Walk with the same beautiful poise with which she had lived her life, we, her family and her medical specialists intervened with all of our might to fight off the inevitable. She was taken to two different hospitals over the span of the last 3 days where the vitally alive battled to avert or at least delay an end, that became heartbreakingly beleaguered.
My final memory of her last day with us, has nothing in the way of any gentleness, love or the deep peace of final goodbyes. It is a memory fraught with fussing, poking, prodding Medical Staff intubating, pulling and pushing her as they, with determined professionalism, executed their Hippocratic oaths. The memory of her looking right at me, confused and exhausted as they inserted the ET tube down her throat is still searingly painful.
For a full two years after that, I thought of that terrible, terrible last scene every single night before i allowed myself to sleep. Perhaps it was my form of emotional self flagellation for being a well meaning party to the inadvertent indignity and torment my mother suffered towards the end.
And then, I’m not sure whether it was a providential helping hand reaching out from my own subconscious to finally pull me out of my emotional abyss, or the tender, cosmic reverberations of the maternal bond that helped me to transition to my current state of mental well being. That said, it was a dream that gave me back some semblance of my peace. So lucid, potent and reassuring was the vision of my mother being well and happy that i woke up with the sheer visceral force of the feeling – the warmth of her touch still lingering on the skin of my hands. (I have written about the dream in another post: https://theroamingdesi.org/2020/03/09/thank-you-for-the-joy/ )
And so, I finally did surface from the viper pit of guilt and grief and i have since, forgiven myself.
All living creatures are the sum total of their experiences and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my experience of losing someone close to me is the ability to see death for what it is – unavoidable. While I have lost my fear of the end, i also now understand the profound blessing a quick (relatively painless) exit is. That a departure that is underscored with acceptance, essential conversations, tranquility and quality time spent together becomes the blessed catalyst for more fully celebrating the lives of the loved ones we’ve lost. That the ability to see life and death with more ethereal eyes, to help us to grieve a little less and remember with joy so much more, are the cornerstones of a loving, respectful parting.
These End of Life conversations need to logically start in the hallowed halls of medical science. Medical caregivers need to bring more depth to their oaths taken for preserving the well being of human life, to include the dignity of death. These conversations need to become mainstream; to change the culture of the crusading and contrariness around death. In our current approach, we are left with too little in the way of the love and grace of final farewells.
It will take a consummate change in our emotional and social makeup and temperaments to begin to ennoble death even half as much as we do life. Given the current state of our world, this gracious labour of love around Final Partings may be the panacea for reminding us of both, the wonderful alchemy of the state of being alive and the eternal fragility of life itself.
De Khudai pe aman
Some background to this piece is essential I feel, to give it that bit of relatable relevance. Felicia’s character is based on an old family friend in Sri Lanka who is as lovely as she is absolutely, delightfully eccentric. Donald Rajapakse is a more sinister inspiration, based on the character of a man whom i know nothing of but who has been in my coffee shop writing space for the last 6 months – loud, obnoxious and a bit of a hassler. (I had to have the cafe management intervene to have him back off). Ruwani is a happy figment of my imagination, introduced to bring life and depth to the madcap machinations of my 2 main characters.
Felicia looked around her with the air of the resident matriarch, her gaze more acicular than that of a quality control inspector at a pharmaceutical manufactory. She noticed everything; from the brand of shoes on a toddler’s little feet to the caliber and concentration per square inch of a counterpart’s cosmetic applications. She sniffed delicately, her scan of the Cinnamon Grand lobby complete, and picked up her mug of double chocolate drizzled mochaccino.
She turned to Ruwani, her friend of 60 years and a bulwark of a woman in bearing and bulk.
“I’ve had a new salwar* stitched for the next meeting of the International Ladies’ Club. It’s from Pakistan. That Shihani thought she looked like a beauty queen with her Janpath market purchase. Did you see the cheap gold lace on her shawl?” She rolled her eyes as she spoke disparagingly of her social arch-nemesis.
Ruwani laughed her high tinkling laugh, delicately belying her ponderous mien. Her eyes twinkled as she said, “imitation is the purest form of flattery darling. She’s always looked up to you as her role model”. She laughed again at the mental image of Shihani looking up to Felicia as a role model of any sort. The two women could barely coexist in a social environment, and when they did somehow manage to come within six feet of each other, there was almost always a thrilling finale to the affair. The stuff of Page 3 high adventure.
Felicia frowned and took a slurpy swig of her saccharinus coffee, letting the heady brew course through her body, giving her the mental vigor to “drop it for now”. She had recently been diagnosed as a prediabetic and on the behest of her Ayurveda* guru, she had begun meditating to “will away the extra sugar” as she called it. She had also realised more recently that her willpower increased dramatically when her blood was fortified with caffeine or spirits. Still, she gave a last withering look to Ruwani before allowing the sugary caffeine to whisk away the wisecrack into some not so obscure recesses of her mind; the memory to be retrieved later, brazen and embellished, when she needed stirring reinforcements of lividity in the wake of an especially karmic day.
Ruwani watched Felicia’s face as expressions of resentment, detachment, reanimation and a final ferocity played out in the fond encore of an oft repeated act. Despite the bluff and bluster, Felicia was a good sort. The kind that needed copious scratching of the surface before any glimmers of goodness shone through though; a diamond in the consummate rough. Felicia Pelpola and Ruwani Edirisinghe had been friends for 50 years now and had had their fair share of fall-outs and run-ins. But time and grace (mostly on Ruwani’s side) had brought a bristly tenderness to their equation and their friendship had triumphantly weathered multitudinous storms in teacups and the occasional tsunami.
Felicia had, in her heydays, been quite the social starlet. She was the debutante that had changed the norms of the party circuit with her boisterous manner and her delicate anatomy. Her demeanour and her countenance were at such odds with each other that the resulting befuddlement of the senses became her piece de resistance. She provoked a serendipiptius sensation of attraction and discomfuture that pulled at all the male heart strings and incensed, in equal measure, the traditional ladies of leisure. Ruwani looked at her now robustly girthed friend and chuckled. Time had diminished her beauty yes, but had also compensated her unsparingly with a persona that strode into most rooms before her person did. She was absolutely, delightfully formidable!
“Oh look who’s here!” Ruwani, still grinning, looked towards where her friend was gesturing. Donald Rajapakse had just walked in, behatted and bellicose, loudly berating someone on his way into the coffee shop.
“Donnie! Donnie! Aney!* He’s getting deaf as a door nail!” crowed Felicia.
There was startled hush in the cafe which neither Felicia nor Donald noticed as the one shrieked back a “Hellooo!” and the other cackled in what was meant to be a guileful titter. Donnie came towards them, swaying from side to side in his quintessential rheumatic lurch.
“Hello my beauties! How are my favourite ladies?”
Felicia smiled affectedly and in the high pitched, adenoidal voice reserved only for eligible men and her hair dresser, she quipped, “We are fiiiine! Having cappuccino. You want? Come sit aney!”
Donnie sat in the chair that afforded him the best view of his surroundings and looked around. Felicia continued to smile like a loon and shifted her bulk at a precipitous right angle towards Donnie’s chair, her hand delicately supporting her chin. But Donnie was already distracted by a solitary woman sitting two tables away, engrossed in a book. He stared hard, only half hearing what Felicia was chirping into his ear. When his hypnotic stare didn’t get the creature to look his way, he devolved in his trademark manner into Neanderthal mode and then there was a bustle and a frenzy as he guffawed, bellowed and produced all manner of primitive-man noises to hassle the object of his current coffee shop infatuation into acknowledging his presence. She did finally, by calling for the bill, casting a disdainful look towards the voluble, senior party of three and sauntering out into the sunshine. Donnie was woebegone as his buoyant hat came off and he sat there with an inadvertent twinkle on his bald head. But not for long; you can’t keep a socially catastrophic but tirelessly optimistic man down for long. And so the next couple of hours were spent sipping coffee and annihilating plates of mutton pies and smoked salmon wraps over boisterous conversation.
At 3pm, Donnie left the group to join another party at the 70s Club. Felicia took back command of her person and her surroundings and the next thirty minutes were spent in a focused wardrobe and character breakdown of the other coffee shop patrons. All in all, it had been a charming afternoon!
On the way home, both women were thoughtful mostly because of the stupor of all the food consumed and partly because of the waning day…. Life. Ruwani glanced at her friend who had leaned her head against the seat and closed her eyes, blocking out the world perhaps, after spending an afternoon in its fervid embrace. Ruwani looked outside her window. They had stopped at a traffic light. A young man on a motorbike was arguing with his female pillion as she pushed away from him clutching a Beverly Street bag to her chest. A snot-nosed boy ran across the road with a dripping ice cream cone in his hand, following a hassled mother. A tuk tuk driver looked at his phone in distressed anticipation while glancing every so often at the red traffic light. The only quietude in the scene outside surrounded a duo of mynahs promenading along the sidewalk in perfect creature harmony.
Back home and post a shower, Felicia sat at her dressing table looking at her reflection. She brushed her hair slowly, the once lustrous strands now feeling meagre and inadequate in her grasp. She looked at the lines in her face; each had become a more avid companion as the years had gone by. She looked away and out of her bedroom window. In the waning twilight she saw a pair of mynahs, frolicsome and songful, performing a last little dance before being blanketed by the stillness of the night.
*Salwar: local colloquialism for the Shalwar Kameez, the long shirt and loose pants indigenous to the northern subcontinent
*Ayurveda: An alternative medicine system with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent.
*Aney: a colloquial Singhalese expression meant to show mild irritation/ concern.
A tribute (brutal and raw so we don’t forget) to all those courageous girls who have been made victims of our ugly patriarchal social fabric, and who have stood up to their tormentors/ violators and even their protectors to stop the abuse. And to those brave, brave girls who continue to fight to survive another day. May we see this horror begin to end in our lifetimes.
It’s my wedding day today; i am 17 years old.
It is also the 6th anniversary of the 28th time “It” happened,
And the 3rd anniversary of the 153rd time.
I have this terrible memory - my teachers call it a photographic memory.
I remember everything. I can’t forget even when i want to.
My mind is a notebook, each page blazing with the clarity of vulgar recall
I have tried to be good; to remember only what i should
But I have this terrible memory...
Today I’m to wed my uncle - My father’s younger brother.
For him, it is also the 6th anniversary of the 28th time “It” happened.
And all the anniversaries in between.
I wonder if he remembers the 28th time...the 10th time....
The First time...
I wonder if his memory is as unforgiving as mine.
My notebook has no entries on conjectures, or pain or anguish
Not mine; not anyone else’s.
It is only the sum total of the number of times “It” happened.
Each page pristine, detailed, crystal clear, with edges as sharp as knives;
Bestowing countless paper cuts as they stir secretly in my head.
Those blessed paper cuts ... mental cuts .... numberless abrasions, innumerably inflicted to forget a page;
To forget one instance.
That never happens.
But i find some peace as the physical pain temporarily cloaks me in its tenderly piercing grasp.
Today I will become the wife of Harris lala* .... Harris.... No, I can’t bring myself to drop the suffix
Maybe he will finally become nameless. Tranquilizingly, numbingly, mercifully nameless.
My mother is relieved... she has been a silent witness (his co-conspirator?) to the last 5 anniversaries of when “It” first happened
My father hasn’t really spoken to me in 3 years (his Protector?) .... not since the day I tried to tell him that his brother had ... had been ... my mind still refuses to name “It”
Today I also learned that I’d stood first in the Board matriculation exam.
I resent that accolade .... that worldly consummation of my terrible memory.... my terrifyingly acute, my savage, unrelenting memory.
Today, my tormenter (my violator?) will become my partner for life
Today, I’m going to finally close the Notebook in my mind
Today, I’m going to be respectable once again.
Today will be the First day of the consummation of my marriage!
(Today will be the 389th time that i will be ravaged).
De Khudai pe aman.
Lala: term of respect for older male relative, mainly denoting “big brother”. Used commonly across most communities in Pakistan and the northern parts of India.
This political farcical piece was written in September of 2020 in the wake of the American presidential elections.
May 24th, 2021:
The President Is Dead.
It was not exactly a shock but it did put the Administration into a bit of a tailspin. DT’s* tenuous hold on his vitality and even his lucidity, had begun to loosen quite quickly after he won the 2020 election – through the electoral college loophole yet again, trailing as he was by a popular vote count of 4,321,786 to be exact. It had been sad to see his trademark animated crazy-man persona take a nosedive in the aftermath of a Covid 19 attack in February 2021. Respiratory complications had led to double pneumonia and a heart attack from which he had never quite recovered. And thus it came to pass that with a sniffle and a stroke, the “Wuhan” virus had finally triumphed over its greatest Detractor and Denier in Chief.
Mike Pence Was Confused.
Mother* had been anticipating a turn in her otherwise vapid husband’s fortunes. She was a devout Christian and believed that because of her prodigious equation with God, her Mike was destined for greatness. Privately, Mike was terrified. He was used to doing someone’s bidding- the more autocratic the bidder, the more effectively Mike Pence tended to advance the [political] will of God. Mother said that when the time came, he was to “rise to the occasion”….
He mopped his brow and picked up the phone to call Mother. He put it down almost immediately. He looked across at Ivanka, squinting in anticipation.
In the wake of her father’s battle with the Chinese scourge, Ivanka had stepped up just like the chip off the old Trump timber that she was. In fact, she’d been the defacto Head of State now for the last 3 months while the President elect had relegated himself to laboriously showing up for the necessary photo and video Ops. In the short course of 2 months and through unrelenting public interactions and fact-repelling, fantastical incendiary speeches, she had expertly manipulated his fiercely loyal electorate to look on her as the heir apparent to the American throne. When the time came, she was going to gleam; she was going to be queen!
June 9th, 2021:
A million Trump supporters marched on Washington DC on June 5th, 2021. They had one mission in mind: to ensure the legacy of Donald J. Trump endured in the only way possible/ plausible. Ivanka Trump was to be President – some said Sovereign Leader.
Over 5000 people were killed in that endeavour (which came to be called the Lafayette Square Massacre in clandestine, ragtag liberation groups). On June 9th, 2021 Washington fell and Ivanka was installed in Mar-a-Lago, Florida as the Supreme Leader of the Republic of America.
June 9th, 2023:
The Immaculate Assimilation
There are still hopeful little insurgent clutches that come up here and there like miniscule trickles of water in the desert. They raise tenuous battle cries for the old values; for equality and justice. They are brutally crushed every time. The QAnon* governed, Portland based torture chambers, i have heard, rival none.
A newage caste system, inadvertently borrowed from the 1500 year old Vedic period in ancient India, has been installed as the elemental social fabric of the Republic of America. It is a fundamental alchemy of economic and racial hierarchy; and it is thriving in all its unstifled, newly-released glory. Washington is now home to the Mass Re-Cognition Camps where participants are concertedly reconditioned on the values of the new republic or Great America as it is now called.
I am a working class brown woman in this new America. And I have ‘volunteered’ to relearn the manifesto and the ethos of our new country, my position in it and especially, the very definite limits to my aspirations.
Where We Go One – We Go All!*
Long live the Aryan Republic of America!
Glossary of Terms:
*The Age of Stupid: Title inspired from a namesake 2009 dystopian movie. This feature is the follow up to the original OPINION |The Age of Stupid*
*DT: Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the USA
*Mother: Mike Pence’s (and indeed, all of America’s) endearment for his wife
*QAnon: A far-right cult of conspiracy theorists alleging that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles running a global child sex-trafficking ring is plotting against President Donald Trump, who is battling them
*WWG1WGA: Where We Go One We Go All– a QAnon credo based on the “Great Awakening” of the public to share the load of restoring faith in the rule of law in a post-media age.
US Hegemony, Its Lingering Pakistan/ Afghanistan Embarrassment and Media Morality
It was the early 80s. I still vividly remember as a child, standing on the side of the iconic Mall road in Murree (a mountain resort town situated about 30kms northeast of Islamabad in Punjab, Pakistan, and also home to a number of missionary boarding schools) with compatriots from my school and others, waving little Pakistani and American flags as President Zia ul Haq accompanied by the then US Vice President, George H. W. Bush (Bush Senior) drove by in their endless cavalcade of black luxury sedans. For us it was a joyous day out of the regular rigour of boarding school life; for Pakistan it was the beginning of the end of its Rising Star status in the region.
Pakistan, so geostrategically well situated to catalyse the downfall of the Soviet empire- the one thorn in the side of the Americans and the only obstacle to an all out USA dominated planet- was requested to become Ally Numero Uno. And we complied in the then considered most shrewd and cunning manner – through religiously radicalising, arming and mobilising an entire nation in a war that was to turn in on itself for decades after the USSR fell. By God, did we comply! And for very little in return. A statesman at the helm of affairs at the time (or even a half-way successful businessman like Donald Trump armed as he is with his career collage of bankruptcies), rather than a religiously devout military man, would have at least got us better trade deals to help shore up the economy once the dust of battle settled. But these are wishful conjectures…and the rest as they say, is history.
Soviet Russia sputtered and fell and the USA couldn’t get out of the region fast enough, leaving two countries with populations in the area of 130 million (circa 1992) to clean up the mess. But radical religion has a way of festering, sometimes out of sight, and emerging multiplied, more virulent, more destructive and deadlier than before. And that has been the dubious Vestige of Alliance bestowed on the two countries, the “rewards” of which we are continuing to grimly reap. Kabul, once considered the Paris of the East, is now a wraith of its former self, and the country has been declared a failed state. Pakistan itself has been teetering on the edge of the abyss of Pariah States. It’s people have undergone decades of global dismissal at best and damnation at worst. Despite being the fifth most populous country in the world and a nuclear power, it has fallen behind all its compatriots on almost every index of progress, prosperity and nationhood. The war on terror in fact, has purportedly cost the Pakistani economy a total of almost USD 130 billion since 2001.
Ironies and hypocrisies are rife as the countries in the West continue to strengthen themselves in nuclear armament while using every tactic in the book and outside of the realms of international law to bully the weaker/ developing nations into maintaining their globally vulnerable positions. The touted purpose: because these countries cannot be trusted with independent nuclear arms for they may wage globally destructive wars. The ironic truth: almost all the wars of the 20th century and the 2 decades of the 21st century have been initiated or aggressively intervened in by the USA, whether it was Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria; or Cuba, Panama, Kenya and Yemen. We, the developing nations, have sat on the sidelines, watched our economies bled dry, our social systems dragged into the Middle Ages and our international reputations ripped to tatters. The 20th century has indeed been a bloody epoch despite all the noble peace-promoting intentions of the victors of the 2 world wars. We as the human species have remained true to our baser instincts: power has tended to corrupt; and absolute power has corrupted absolutely.
And now enter the new devil! The mainstream digital and broadcast American media which in the blink of an eye can school millions of viewers around the world onto any hypothesis, conspiracy theory and interpretation of facts…and fiction. For the Global Village such as it is, besides making the world that much smaller and more accessible for its citizens, also ensures that current affairs are copiously and constantly coloured only with the pens of the victors of the 20th century, the USA.
Case in point: A few months ago, Pakistan displayed quite remarkable success in not only reining in the Covid-19 pandemic in the country while the wheels of economy continued to turn; but it was also reported to currently have the best performing stock market in Asia. Hot on the heels of this positive press, the major American media conglomerates began blitzing their screens with how Pakistan and Afghanistan are still the only countries in the world which still had rampant wild strains of polio. And so there it was again – the habitually insidious carpet-pulls from under our beleagured feet….
The Avengers of the Digital Age then, are not the politicians nor the military Strongmen. They are the Media. And granted that on the Information Super Highway, it requires great ethical tenacity and character to claw through the putrefying onslaught of political bias, power and oneupmanship. But never have the stakes for the preservation and endurance of our collective ethics and morality been higher than at the present time. Now more than ever, this fraternity needs to people itself with the most courageous visionaries, opinion makers and informers who bring an unwavering moral predisposition/ force to the sacrosanct task of building a higher globally shared ethical instinct and awareness.
God save the Queen, the USA, the Sheikhs, the Despots and the Champions of our collective moral integrity!
De Khudai pe aman.
I’d been hearing its haunting whispers for a while, and so there was a sense of urgency of the spirit if you will, to go off into some wilderness sunset somewhere. It was in this chakras-in-a-flux kind of state then that the opportunity to soulfully recoup befell me. And so it was at the tail end of a tropically balmy July that i found myself taking the scenic route to Habarana – home to a number of national parks, eclectic wildlife and the majestic pachyderm, the Asian elephant.
We (my travel adventures partner in crime and I), drove to Habarana which is located in the Anuradhapura district of Sri Lanka. It is ideally situated as the departure point for safaris in the Habarana jungle and a throng of nearby wildlife sanctuaries. It is also home to a number of beautiful hotels one of which is the Cinnamon Habarana Lodge. Boasting sprawling grounds alive with the sounds, sights and smells of nature, the Lodge offers fabulous walkways replete with forest trail-like pathways; water bodies straight out of a Monet painting; and a profusion of chittering, chattering birds and primates. Nature truly is free and floating at the Lodge, dancing in a mesmeric carnival of greens, browns, blues and reds. Needless to say, we walked off many a lavish meal in the midst of this resplendent profusion.
Our first deep-dive into nature was a trip to the Minneriya National park situated a half an hour drive away from the Habarana Lodge. Close to the culturally historic city of Polonnaruwa, it is home to 160 species of birds, 9 species of amphibians, 25 species of reptiles, 26 species of fish, and 75 species of butterflies. The park offers majestic views of wild elephants foraging in the shrub. The famous Gathering of the Wild Elephants occurs at this meeting place, also known for the largest gathering of Asian Elephants at one place anywhere in the world. During the dry season of August to September each year, herds of up to 300 elephants are seen within a few square kilometers of the vast Minneriya Reservoir.
The whole experience is almost meditative as these gentle giants go about their foraging activities while the calves romp, play and trunk-wrestle one another. We also had the unique good fortune to see 1-month old twins born in the wild – a fabulous rarity in the pachyderm species. The day of our visit, there were only 5 other jeeps at Minneriya, where there are usually over a 100 on any given day. The pandemic has definitely put a spanner in the wilderness works at Habarana! In an ironic way, as is true for so much in our lives, this break from the human horde has been greatly psychologically salubrious for the resident elephants, who have been known to occasionally charge at the safari jeeps. Not in any harmful way but in more of a display of self preservation as they protect the herd, especially their juveniles and infants.
We were also able to spot wild Axis deer, Jungle fowl, Peacocks and wild hare. Curious troops of Toque Macaque monkeys and Tufted Grey Langurs greeted us at almost every bend in the road, sitting on their haunches like so many subcontinental men who, done with their daily toils, congregate on sidewalks to watch the world go by, while also wishing for some serendipitously divine change in their fortunes. Many are carrying cute as button infants who are chips right off the old blocks – inquisitive, sociable and perpetually waiting for divine (or homosapien) manna.
With the copiously tranquil vibe of Minneriya still reverberating in our city-wearied bones, we were hooked. So on the morrow, we embarked on yet another safari, this time to the undulating plains of the Kaudulla National Park. Situated about 20 minutes away from the Lodge, the park is known for sightings of leopards, fishing cats, sambar deer, endangered rusty spotted cats and sloth bears. On a typical trip, one is guaranteed enthralling views of a variety of birds including resplendent junglefowl, peacocks, ibis, egrets, hornbills and rain quails. The piece de resistance again however, are the herds of wild elephants and their calves, observable in their wild habitat; and of course the habitat itself. Lush greenery amidst undulating plains meets the eye for miles. Kaudulla Park is yet another close up zen experience with Nature and her great and small beasts.
The national park sojourns are as much journeys into the great outdoors, as they are into contemplative/ meditative spaces replete with the sounds and smells of the peaceful wild. I came away from the Habarana trip revived, rejuvenated and rested. It was like the spiritual letting down of my hair while walking barefoot on rain-moistened grass. Indeed, it was like living, for a few delightful days, in a Khalil Jibran quote: Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
De Khudai pe aman
For my beautiful, wise mother on what would have been her 72nd birthday on the 8th of July 2020. And to all the other wonderful mothers who have left us too soon ❤️🌺
Sometimes I wake up in the morning
Feeling a little less vibrant, a little more melancholy...
I get dressed, and I look in the mirror
My hairbrush poised in my hand...
And I see a flash of someone familiar
A fleeting gesture, a nuance, an expression,
And I smile, a gentle joy touching my cheeks.
And then I look into my eyes
And I clearly see the lingering glimmer of someone resting in my heart
And my heart bursts, my throat chokes up and my eyes twinkle
And I know that I have shared
A special mother-daughter moment in my dressing table mirror.
Riaz khan dug with gusto into his dinner of shami kebab*, daal and karela. He looked at the vegetable on his plate and thought about his long-standing mental affiliation with it. Usually the image in his mind made him wince, with relief almost, like peeling off a scab; a mental catharsis for the scores of unrequited what-ifs that off and on gathered in his mind. He now collected the spice-infused, ridged green loops between a bit of roti to chew them down before finally vanquishing them, bitterness and all in his large intestine. The existential angst with which he juxtaposed himself body and soul on the bitter gourd now made him chuckle. His own Kharoos Karela avatar had probably been much more caustic than the enterprising vine had ever itself aspired to be! He laughed aloud at the imagery, almost choking on his food. Jasmina looked at her brother benignly. She liked this change that had come over her usually melancholy sibling. He was happier, healthier and talkative; well, not as much as she would have liked but still, there was much more he offered now besides his monosyllabic grunts. She snorted in good cheer, puffing out her chest like a hen fluffing up with maternal compassion before sitting back down on her eggs. Mariam gamely grinned back at both of them.
“Come, I want to show you something”, said Riaz Khan wheeling himself towards his bedroom window. He did that quite often now, without buckling under the creaky protestations of his muscles. Besides everything else that Mariam had been doing for him, she had also started him on an intensive physiotherapy regimen. What he used to grudgingly subject himself to once or twice a week before, he now looked forward to every day, sometimes twice a day. Over the last three months, his triceps had become stronger and he could now lift himself off the bed and into the wheelchair on his own. The first time he performed this feat, he was overwhelmed, feeling his throat tighten with emotion. Never being one to check into the water works department, and not intending to start then, he had swallowed hard. But it had been tough this time, calling on his self control. This simple act of independence was a rare step forward for his sluggish, time-battered body. Usually the milestones he racked up drove him slipping and sliding ever closer to the ultimate end. That day he’d actually felt brave and hopeful.
“What is it?”, asked a curious Mariam, peering at the tree outside the window.
“Look to where I’m pointing, between those two branches … higher up.. do you see them?”
“Is that a … are those bulbuls?”
Riaz Khan nodded, smiling at her. They both watched as the two birds took turns singing to each other, encircled in the rustling arms of the Gulmohar tree. Riaz Khan had shared his secret with Mariam. He had done it on the spur of the moment; unthinkingly. He was not usually one to act impulsively. He believed that the best decisions were made after a generous labour of thought and internal dialogue. But today, still on the adrenaline high of having, self-sufficiently hoisted himself off the bed and into his wheelchair, he had gone with the flow; been spontaneous. He would of course later in a quiet moment, reflect on this episode to see if he still felt good about it or whether he wanted to kick himself for his impulsiveness. The fact that he couldn’t, even if he was inclined to do the latter was one of those ironic jabs of nature conspiring with the language of his thoughts that made him sometimes groan and at other times laugh uncontrollably. Today, his face creased into a wide grin as he glanced at Mariam and then back at the enchantment of the scene outside.
That night, while he was in bed, Mariam had come in to ask him if he wanted to use the toilet. He didn’t; but he also realized with an elation that if he did need to go, he could could get himself there on his own. He had grinned at the thought and she had smiled back.
He wondered how it would be if she tucked him in … tucked herself in with him. He shifted his position, physically trying to place these strange new thooghts in some perspective. Was he falling in love with his carer? Transference the shrinks called that state of love. He looked at Mariam, embarrassed by the machinations of his body and his heart. He focused on her unibrow, trying to poke a hole in the gaily bobbing balloon of his feelings. Immediately he felt remorse – that was unkind. And ineffective. He had now also become fond of the lusty sprouting of hair that weaved its robust, unbroken path across her forehead. Riaz Khan stayed awake for most of that night imagining a hundred different scenarios with Mariam at their front and center. In many of them, Jasmina too jostled her way in; these he steadfastly removed from the queue. By the morning, he was feeling oddly energised and determined.
“Marriage?! Are you mad Riaz Khan?” said a startled Jasmina when he had told her what was on his mind.
“She’s the caregiver; the domestic. You’re imagining yourself to be in love with her. Infatuation is what it is. Don’t you go and tell her of any of these wild fancies of yours, you’ll scare the woman away”.
“And don’t forget that she’s Christian”, Jasmina added forebodingly, delivering what seemed to her, the final nail in the coffin that she had quickly mustered up for the inauspicious zombies of love that her brother had resurrected overnight.
The end of that summer came quickly and cleanly. Jasmina called Yousuf Alves and asked him to resume his old position. In the wake of his sister fitting in so well at Bait-ul-Muskaan and himself finding another client, Yousuf had let the status quo prevail for the past six months. Mariam had filled in admirably, Madam Jasmina added, but it was not seemly for a woman to be caring for a man on a long term basis. It was best if he returned or found an appropriate replacement.
A week after Riaz Khan had identified and given a name to the fluttering in his heart, and three days since he had spoken to his sister of what he intended to do about it, Mariam was gone. Riaz Khan did not protest. Nor did he ask to see Mariam one last time before she left Bait-ul-Muskaan. Yousaf returned and settled into Riaz Khan’s routine like a well worn shoe. Together they again treaded the faded old paths of the life that had been Riaz Khan’s for the last twenty years.
Riaz Khan sat in his wheelchair looking out of the window in his room. The Gulmohar had already begun to mottle and shed its summer foliage. The bulbuls’ nest that usually lay screened, secret and full of life, now lay bare and exposed to the chill winter winds. The birds too had forsaken the desolation of their surroundings and flown away to warmer climes. Riaz Khan looked at the empty nest waiting for some emotion, any emotion to overtake him; for some sentiment from the slew of feelings that had poured over him so readily over the last few months: nostalgia, hope, sadness, desperation even. There was nothing.
But he lingered, and even as he looked at the joyless scene outside, he felt the faintest glimmer of something stirring, something silvery around the greyness that sat in his heart: the birds … they’d be back in a few months to renew, rebuild and revel in the bounties of summer, and the tree would be full of birdsong once again.
Read Part One here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2022/07/27/bulbuls-nest-part-one/
Read Part Two here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2022/07/28/bulbuls-nest-part-two/
* Shami Kebab: A round patty of minced lamb and lentils cooked in a tandoor; often served with a small salad with a yoghurt and mint dressing.
Mary aka Mariam arrived in Bait-ul-Muskaan on the following Monday. She was dressed in the quintessential Pakistani nurse’s uniform of pristine white shalwar kameez and a matching cotton dupatta. She was a big built woman with sinewy arms – brawny tributes to all the caregiving she had done over the last three decades. The unibrow that ran across her forehead was her other distinguishing feature. It was oddly likeable, growing on most people for various reasons: The women in the households she had been employed at, saw it as the unwavering physical bulwark that would naturally keep their men on the right side of decency; the men, well, many secretly liked the idiosyncrasy. It was almost like nature conspiring with them to give them a bit of incognito titillation. And so, in the midst of all this covert appreciation there had been one affair, with the son of the patient she was caring for. The memory of the end of that episode still stung the back of her eyelids. That had been the first and the last time she had allowed her personal life to interfere with her professional one.
Riaz Khan instantly liked the look of the big, solid woman. She exuded efficiency and readiness. And she was also reserved, answering only the questions that were put to her by Jasmina and asking a few of her own regarding her client’s daily regimen.
Riaz Khan allowed himself to finally relax. Mariam the replacement would do for the next month or so.
The days spun into weeks and the weeks rolled into months and soon it was July. Mariam had been a part of Bait-ul-Muskaan now for three months and had settled into the largely quiet routine of her employers. Although she undertook most of Riaz Khan’s lifting, shifting, wheeling, medicating and back and feet scrubbing, she also helped Jasmina during her grocery shopping sprees. These were formidable ventures undertaken once a month and Jasmina was nothing if not painstakingly particular. She had been known to scour a dozen grocery stores for a specific variety of detergent and all the department stores in DHA* for her preferred brand of hand cream. This monthly enterprise was the singular adrenaline rush in the otherwise still lives of the women of Bait-ul-Muskaan, with one boldly leading the charge and the other following in her exhausting wake. As the clock ticked on in the quest for a particularly elusive item, the serene atmosphere dissolved into chaos, inquiries became increasingly brusque and voices were raised to screeching-crescendo levels.
Once everything or its grudgingly serviceable alternative was procured, the ride back home was always dealthly silent with one woman allowing her organs to slowly cease beating their battle drums, while the other looked diligently ahead, making herself as unobtrusive as her muscly bulk would allow. It was nothing less than a Hundred Year war – with each of Jasmina’s years in all their ferociousness equal to multiple battle years – waged against the fickle nature of supply chains and the infuriating thriftiness of retail inventory. Riaz Khan had early on in the shrewd wisdom that the universe had bequeathed on him for her other excesses against him, ceased to participate in these market (mis)adventures. He was thus the only occupant of the house that retained his peace of mind in the hours that followed the return of the sometimes ruffled and sometimes vanquished brigade, with their sometimes list-fulfilled and sometimes list-lustre spoils of retail war.
Over the months, Mariam had fortified herself for these mentally and physically depleting excursions by going to bed after a supper of lightly buttered toast and green tea. She slept better and tended to have fewer nightmarish dreams where she was plodding through HKB* and Carrefour* with chains on her feet and Jasmina on her shoulders loudly urging her on. She had had that exact lucid dream in the early hours of the morning following her first grocery trip at Bait-ul-Muskaan. She had also had a generous portion of Nihari from Zakir Tikka the night before so the toss up between the instigators of her frightful visions was even. Nevertheless, she had woken up in a cold sweat, feeling disoriented and afraid. She had then decided to change at least what she could of the two tormenting events: the marketing was out of her control but the post-trip dinner she could make light and gut-easy. It was either her tranquilized digestive system or the fact that her nerves just got better at handling shopping day offensives, but she was spared Jasmina and HKB related nightmares after that.
Aside of the one day in a month where she was the matriarch’s companion in the madness of the outside world, stoked to its full fruition by the older woman, Mariam was by Riaz Khan’s side most of the other days. She helped him from his bed into the wheelchair, from there to the WC and then to the shower where she would vigorously scrub his back and his feet while he sat in his underwear. The awkwardness of the first couple of bath times had long since dissipated in the efficient, no nonsense air that she surrounded herself with. While Riaz Khan completed his toilette, she would make his bed and get a boiled egg and toast ready for him. She would accompany him while he breakfasted, with her second mug of morning tea. He would then read for a while after which he napped for an hour. In this time, Mariam would wash or iron her clothes.
At 4 o’ clock every afternoon, the occupants of Bait-ul-Muskaan would come together to have tea in the veranda overlooking the garden. After that mostly quiet repast where Jasmina made an occasional remark on the avian and floral sightings in the garden, Riaz Khan hrmphed and Mariam studiously followed Jasmina’s variously pointing hand, the trio would disperse. Jasmina would return to the ever-demanding bowels of the house while Mariam would take Riaz Khan for a stroll in the garden. The first couple of months of these perambulations had been quiet. Then Riaz Khan had spoken about the Gulmohar tree. He had climbed it as a child and had even fallen from its topmost branches (about eight feet high then) landing unscathed onto the grass. He had laughed wryly at this cosmic teasing of what was to come later. Mariam had listened, overwhelmed by her suddenly vocal employer. He had looked back at her then and she had seen, behind his black-framed spectacles, the amber-green flecks in his eyes,. She had smiled and said something about silver linings and glasses half full. He had laughed uproariously and she had grinned back.
After that episode, the garden became their place for conversations and laughter. The whole day would pass in almost complete silence until after tea time when the two would stroll, chat and revel in the profusion of their surroundings and in the pleasure of each other’s company. This nature-stirred, time-bound lightness of spirit suited them both.
Read Part One here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2022/07/27/bulbuls-nest-part-one/
Read Part Three here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2022/07/29/bulbuls-nest-part-three/
* DHA: Defence Housing Authority, a vast residential community across various cities in Pakistan.
* HKB: A department store chain across Pakistan - Haji Karim Buksh.
* Carrefour: A large French multinational consisting of grocery stores, supermarkets and hypermarkets, with presence in Pakistan too.
Riaz Khan looked out of the window at the tree in the garden. He sought the bulbul’s nest that always peeked reassuringly through the noon-lit foliage. It had become a daily ritual of quiet joy for him as he sat shaved and ready in his wheelchair. The rest of the summer days followed on the heels of this scene, sometimes bearable and mostly shrouded in the reins of monotony and of Jasmina Khan, his sister and the matriarch of their home. It used to be his home. But that fact had become forgotten and buried in the dust and dreariness of time.
Jasmina had early on as a girl shown glimmerings of the formidable homemaker that her mother was. By fifteen she could cook the full range of gastronomic delights from the eastern and the western hemispheres. And by nineteen, she was the deputy matriarch of Bait-ul-Muskaan*, with only marriage breaking that indomitable influence. For a short while though, like an accidental blip in the fabric of the universe. The subsequent course-correction was swift and absolute: she was widowed within two years of her marriage in which time, both her parents had also passed away. She again took up the domestic reins at Bait-ul-Muskaan like she had never really left the place, donning her mother’s terrific mantle with alacrity and ease. To this perfection, she also brought an overarching bossiness that made short shrift of domestic issues as well as her brother’s peace of mind.
For her part, Jasmina never thought she was doing anything that was not wholly right and responsible, and that she was mistress of nothing more than she truly deserved. Riaz Khan, on the other hand, often thought that he was paying penance for some ill he’d done Jasmina in another life. He would grumble and assert and she would admonish and revoke. The siblings had been living in this lopsided arrangement for well over thirty years now.
Riaz Khan was a paraplegic and had been for almost two decades. An accident that could have been avoided in retrospect (all accidents seem avoidable in retrospect he thought) had left him unable to use his legs. On good days, he was still able to appreciate the abiding functionality of his upper body. On bad days, he felt like a vegetable, specifically a karela*. He had embodied its unapologetic caustic quality, full of texture and nuance, culminating in a unique flavour that wasn’t everyone’s choice of bharta*. That’s what he was; on the not so good days – a Kharoos* Karela. To his mind even that tragic conjecture; that animation of the inanimate held some optimism. This meant that his depression was as yet not in the fatalistic realms of the psychotic, just marking time in its safely lunatic layers. That deduction didn’t bother him. He now used the “P” word easily, cheerfully even, because in his mind, it was the kind of madness that gave him the will to live on in the taxing world that was his and Jasmina’s, around which orbited a few acquaintances like visible but distant satellites.
Riaz Khan looked out at the Gulmohar tree that at that time of the year was resplendent in its beautiful flame-like flowers. Some of its branches were so close to the window that he could reach out and touch them even from his wheelchair. But today his attention was not on the summer-flushed efflorescence of the tree. He was looking at the bulbul’s nest which lay, once again, like a perfect little bowl in the crook of two branches, at a forty degree angle above his line of sight. He had first spied it a couple of years ago and had felt a little rush of pleasure. For some inexplicable reason, he had kept that bit of serendipity to himself; guarding it almost jealously from the knowledge of the others. There were precious few things that were within the domain of his exclusive awareness and gratification, given his more than usual reliance on those around him for everything really.
The secret had stayed with him through the summer months of the previous year and the year before that, scattering in the autumn breeze as both, nest and birds disappareared. The other day he had seen it again. Nest Kintsugi* he thought to himself: Broken and rebuilt again, more beautiful because it was familiar and yet new. The Gulmohar secret, in so faithfully revisiting him again, had become ever more precious. He smiled widely when he finally caught sight of the songful little birds.
It was time for lunch and Yousaf had come into the room to wheel him to the dining room. Yousaf Alves was Riaz Khan’s full time care-giver and lived at Bait-ul-Muskaan.
“You know I don’t like cabbage. It gives me gas. Painful gas”, grumbled Riaz Khan.
“I only cook it once a week”, countered Jasmina. “The flatulence is good for your gut. It’s not like your intestines are getting any exercise to help them move things along”.
“Oh for goodness sake Jasmina. Nobody wants to hear your detailed analysis of my biology. I’ll just have the daal*”.
Jasmina laughed cheerfully. For all his moodiness he was a softie her brother and she felt no disinclination in allowing him to tell her off now and then. That grace she always found in her heart for her beloved sibling. Riaz may be four years older than her, but they both knew who wore the waistcoat in the house.
There was a message from Yousaf’s home on Monday morning: his wife had fallen ill. She was pregnant with their second child and it was proving to be a difficult gestation. He had twice before gone for a week at a time and the agency had dutifully provided his replacement. Both times Riaz khan had borne the inexpert ministrations of the substitute with the resignation of a martyr. He had waited eagerly and desperately for his Man Friday to return. Yousaf had, in his five years in the service of the older man, become quite indispensable to the latter mainly because of his adeptness but also because of his nature which was quiet and reseverd. Riaz Khan himself was a man of few words and those had become ever scarcer amid the vocal abundance of his sister. She spoke both their minds, even if she happily and grossly misinterpreted his.
“Yousaf has extended his leave. And with this Corona business, the agency can’t find anyone suitable to send over in place of the current replacement. So Yousuf’s sister is coming to fill in for him. She’s a trained caregiver too”, said Jasmina walking into Riaz Khan’s room.
Why didnt she ever knock! Did losing his ability to walk, strip him also of his privacy! thought Riaz Khan irritably for the thousandth time.
It had been an interminable week for him in the inexpert hands of the substitute carer whose unwieldy labour was thankfully coming to an end today. He had been looking forward to Yousuf’s return the following day, and now this!
Riaz Khan looked at his sister darkly. She stared unflinchingly back at him as one would at a petulant child.
He tried desperately to look for the silver lining in this piece of news. He had to. His thoughts had been festering for the last week and he needed to emerge from the grayness, or he’d go into a depression. It had happened in the earlier days of his affliction. He had spent months in the throes of wretched thoughts and desperate notions. And then one day he had decided that life was still worth living even if it was for the occasional heart warmers like Nihari* from Zakir Tikka, a book that temporarily gave him wings and rainy afternoons.
She was Yousuf’s sister, and so it was logical to hope that she would be as efficient as her brother was. And quiet. At the very least, she would be far better than her bumbling predecessor. Riaz Khan was small built and managing his movements in and out of the wheel chair would not be too difficult. He took in a deep breath, called on his faculties of fortitude and hoped for the best.
Read Part Two here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2022/07/28/bulbuls-nest-part-two/
Read Part Three here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2022/07/29/bulbuls-nest-part-three/
* Bulbul: medium sized songbirds. These birds are distributed across most of Africa and into the Middle East, tropical Asia to Indonesia, and north as far as Japan.
* Bait-ul-Muskaan: House of smiles/ laughter
* Bharta: A Pakistani/ Indian dish of vegetables (such as eggplant and often onion or tomato) that have been cooked usually by roasting and then mashed together with pungent spices.
* Karela: Bitter gourd in Urdu.
* Kharoos: Urdu colloquialism for someone who is hard, uncompromising and joyless.
* Kintsugi: Also known as kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum.
* Daal: cooked lentils in Urdu
* Nihari: Originating in Mughal India, this is slow-cooked meat, mainly a shank cut of beef, lamb and mutton, or goat meat, as well as chicken and bone marrow. It is flavoured with various spices.
Are you there?
Where else would I be?
I mean are you really there or is it just my mind filling in the dialogue?
Dialogue by its very essence means a conversation between two people
I call myself a ____. But I have so many questions in my head. Secret. All secret. Shared with no one. I don’t want to be termed an infidel. A pariah.
Why is religion so … restraining? Incarcerating almost. And claustrophobic.
I want to be good. I want to receive your divine blessings. I want to go to heaven. But I sometimes feel so trapped here.
You have a mind. Listen to it.
I do. And it tells me that the rituals of religion have overtaken my humanity. I do them with more earnestness than any act of actual kindness or empathy or consideration for the people around me. I feel like a fraud. Like I’m doing all this so I can go to heaven and not … not because I really want anyone to benefit from any of my good deeds in themselves.
My mother is going to perform her third pilgrimage … blessed is she! But I can’t help thinking that in place of raking in more divine favour, she could have instead funded the education of our driver’s daughter. She’s such a smart girl but was pulled out of school because it was a choice between her and her brother. Why does wanting my mother to forgo her holy pilgrimage to help someone at home seem right to me? And yet, thinking that seems sinful? And why must I give fully only to those poor that share my exact faith even if I have to look for them on the streets, and give grudgingly or not at all to the Hindu woman who slaves in my kitchen everyday? Why does that seem incredibly unkind to me, and yet even thinking about the inconsideration somehow seems sinful? Like I’m questioning the very fundamentals and wisdom of my faith.
When I’m alone and these thoughts take over my heart and mind, I get frustrated because I can’t do what really feels right to me. I feel like I’m being cold, calculating, ruthless. And then I get panic attacks because thinking like that just seems damnable and wrong. Everything is upside down and inside out. Nothing makes sense anymore.
When you feel right in your gut about something, anything, a conundrum, then that is your moral obligation. Religion is just another name given to that personal value system, that credo.
But I’m not always sure. There are so many mixed messages. The world has changed and yet we have not. We are discouraged from embracing that change in ways that should happen naturally. Change does not sit well with the communities and the people that were enlightened by your wisdom and guidance so many ages ago. They still want to hold on to all those early norms and customs. It seems unnatural. Counter-intuitive. And yet, I want to do what’s right. I want to go to heaven.
Is …. Is there a heaven?
What is your concept of heaven?
What I’ve been told: a place of ease and abundance. Also a place where so much that I’m not allowed to do in this world, I can freely do there.
That sounds complex.
Yes! Again, I feel like a fraud. Why are so many things sinful and wrong in this life and yet those same acts and liberties will be allowed in the blessed heavens?
You tell me.
But it’s in the teachings. Revealed through your blessed apostle. It is your final word.
You have hundreds of years of history behind you. Your humanity and your spirit together with your instinct, make up your three most enlightened and reliable guides. Let them lead you and you will gradually find your way: a state of being that will make you feel light and joyful on the inside. You know, it’s true when someone said that angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.
That last bit was funny; I’m actually smiling. That felt good. But …religion is never lighthearted; it’s not meant to be cheerful or playful.
Any enterprise of the body and the soul that stops you from feeling happy on the inside, is not viable in the long term.
I listened to my heart and my mind. I tried to do what felt right at the deepest, truest part of me rather than what I’ve been taught is right.
And how did you feel?
I felt elated, free, at one with everything around me. No one was beyond your divine magnanimity no matter what they believed in; it was their goodness that was at the front and centre of any and all consequences. I felt an overwhelming compassion for everyone, every creature. There was nothing binding me down in odd, contrived ways. Rituals became so secondary. They ceased to define my whole belief system and instead became the anchors that I sometimes went to when I felt agitated or overcome. Sometimes I even felt like I had no … religion; at least, no mainstream religion. My renewed faith was like a shimmering pathway in my own heart and mind. I began to question things without feeling guilty, and I looked for answers. I began to see so many similarities with others who are faith-wise not like us. My perspective evolved … changed. I realized how difficult it was to identify and focus on the differences rather than on the similarities; how unnatural that was. We were all the same. I felt free, grateful, confident. And heaven would be more of this.
More of what?
More of every one of us trying to be ever better versions of ourselves. Our true selves. Our natural, spiritual selves. Because there is so much joy and freedom in that. So much honesty. So much harmony. So much peace of mind. Such lightness of spirit. That has to be what heaven feels like.
Yes, I listened to my inner voice and everything seemed so easy, so natural, so unbinding.
You LISTENED to your inner voice. You used the past tense. Why?
Yes, I did. Because my new sense of godliness came with a tremendous price. Everyone around me, those I love, those I look up to, those that have always guided me and protected me, they didn’t like what I had become. I felt my mother’s painful disappointment, my brother’s deafening silence and my father’s quiet fury. It has to mean something … all this outrage and disillusionment.
What do you believe in now?
I believe there is sagacity in the old ways. I believe in everything that I have been taught. I believe in the precise observance of rituals to keep us focused and dedicated. I believe that our differences are important and cannot be ignored; that these differences, even if they appear small, many times outweigh our similarities. They keep us cohesive as a community, an impregnable force that can withstand an assault of any kind. More importantly, I believe that we are not all equal in the eyes of the Divine. In terms of faith, we have got it as right as imperfect human beings can get a belief system. The final Hereafter will be ruthless, exacting for the unbelievers and also for those of us believers that stray from the one true path.
That sounds ominous.
That feels safe. I feel protected, part of a whole, when I reaffirm this credo. There has to be a reason for why so many believe these tenets. Why we are so many many millions strong. I can’t lose sight of the bigger picture by focusing on the inner, confounding, disquieting workings of my heart and my mind. They are distracting, frustrating and damaging to me, to my wellbeing in the Hereafter.
Damaging to your peace of mind too?
Faith is not about peace of mind. It is about a constant battle inside. An unending war against the voices of excess and those that would try to tempt us from our one, sacred path. Complete peace of mind is an intemperance, an indulgence, a fantasy. I’m sticking to my guns now. You can’t confuse me.
You are not God! With all your postulations about questioning everything, looking for answers, listening to my heart, focusing on the fairytale of my own spirituality, my peace of mind.
You are the devil pretending to be Divine!
I blocked the other voice. I ended the dialogue. I turned away. I turned away feeling triumphant and blessed. I had vanquished the unsettling, misleading rumbling inside. I had been lured away from the wisdom of centuries and I had found my way back. I basked in my victory.
Even as the muscles of my face celebrated the triumph of my soul, I felt something wrenching in my gut. I resolutely swallowed the acid aftertaste that rose to my mouth.
Showcased on the New Ink digital forum in Colombo on July 23rd 2022. Introducing my book of short stories “The Girl with the Paisley Dupatta” and reading an excerpt from the Sri Lankan section of the book: “Serendib Lodge”.
It was Wednesday afternoon. Bano was done with bridge and Adar had come back from the stock exchange. With their greater purposes of the day done, they rendezvoused at one of their oft frequented coffee shops. Bano ordered tea and cakes; Adar ordered a latte. The foamy brew always fortified him in the presence of his wife. He was up to any conversation then.
“He’s such a show off”
“He come to the cafe in his father’s mercedes. You know the one in that strange yellow colour – like a sick canary. It’s the only one of its kind in the city ….”
Adar looked up, ears prickling with a mixture of curiosity and indignation. It was Giallo Modena, the colour! He and Farshad had especially had it custom-painted. He shifted in his chair but the occupants of the table behind him remained infuriatingly out of sight.
“We had decided to meet up at The Veranda. You know, that new cafe. Well everyone else was there too! First of all he walked in late -“
“Don’t say that. That’s also my X’s name … ugh!”
(A giggle from the next table)
“Anyway, he then insisted on taking ten minutes before he finally made his lumbering way to me. You know how he walks – like he’s holding a 40kg bag in each hand”.
(More giggles from the table)
Bano looked straight ahead, stlll, statue-like. Her outraged ears had taken centre stage on this occasion, their lack of tongue notwithstanding.
“Why’d he take ten minutes to come over?”
“Because he had to stop and talk to Aliya and Maham. These two are always desperately in his way. Uff!”
“Anyway, he came over and gave me a kiss. No, three. You know, I think he was making sure everyone saw it. Like marking his territory”
“Like a doggo”
“Farshad the grey hound in the cafe!”
“Farshad the poodle around you!”
Adar shifted to the right. He was riveted. If only he could get a glimpse of the conversationalists. Bano continued to stare straight ahead with the stillness of the ocean just before it roars into a tsunami. Between the couple sat a pause so pregnant that the tea brewed twice over, creating two or three increasingly caustic versions of itself, and the latte simply collapsed into a tattered frill around the inner edges of the mug.
“Then what happened? Tell me na, is it lurrrve?”
“I don’t know. I can’t tell. I mean he’s so full of himself. I can’t tell whether I just make him love himself more or whether I figure in there somewhere too”.
“So he’d gone to get his visa and apparently he’d told the consular off at the American embassy”.
“She’d asked him how long he was going to the US for and he’d told her for far shorter than she’d been resident in his country”.
(Laughter from the next table)
Bano’s lips twitched in an indecipherable expression. Adar grinned in spite of himself.
“…so arrogant, like he’s god’s gift to everyone!”
“…. yeah … but he’s good looking!”
Bano turned her face ever so slightly towards the next table. There was the faintest hint of appreciation for that bit of sensibility that had trickled into the otherwise unfiltered barrage of adolescent angst.
(More giggles from the other side followed by a request for the bill and finally an exit).
“It’s your fault you know. You spoil him”.
“Don’t you start with me Adarmard. I’m not in the mood”, said Bano uncharacteristically, turning her face away from battle and from her instigating husband, to look again at the display cabinet of cakes. The pineapple upside down in a curious way, reminded her of her own state of mind at that moment: displaced, askew, jangled. She sniffed haughtily as if one last vigorous whiff of the ambient unpleasantness would turn things the right side up again. She hadn’t even glanced at the girls in front of her who’d been describing the Unwala scion in those … pedestrian terms; making him seem flawed and reduced. The art of knowing is also knowing what to ignore, someone had sagely said, and this unpleasantness which had already been denied her sight, was also going to be steadfastly put out of her mind. She sniffed again for good measure and took a long, cleansing sip of her tea.
Adar Unwala looked at his wife for a while as a panoply of emotions skipped across her face, each dealt with and dismissed in quick succession. Then she had looked away and detached herself from the entire episode leaving him with the hatchet and the axe. The thought that she may retrace her steps later to retrieve them bared its teeth unkindly in the back of his mind.
He sighed at his wife’s erstwhile profile, turned studiously away from him and also from any exchange that might have been had to let the air out of the bloated atmosphere that once again sat between them. He blinked once, twice and wheezed into a napkin, clearing his mind and bolstering himself with the din that ensued from his vocal chords. After a little while he smiled widely and wondered if he should have another latte.
Read Part One here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2022/07/21/the-dna-lottery-part-one/
* Late Latif: Urdu colloquialism for someone who is habitually late.
* Phir: “Then” in Urdu
“Why did you have to tell Imtiaz we have a penthouse in London?” questioned Adarmard Unwala, red faced and wrathful.
His inquiry was shot like an arrow at his wife’s back which was turned towards him as she sat facing her dressing table mirror. He generally made these aft-aimed assaults because then he could say what was on his mind; or at least as much as he dared get away with. His wife, after one of these musters of initiative from him, quite completely usurped the offensive and let him have it back ten times more ferociously. She was then relentless, focused and quite triumphant in reducing him ego and all to his precise 5 feet, 5 inches. These backside jabs always seemed like a bad idea in hindsight. But Adar Unwala was the eternal optimist and he rallied with the buoyancy of a helium balloon in the prime of its flatus. Reduced and brought to heel for the moment, he would smile blotchily at his enraged wife, handing over the battle axe into her expert hands. Tajbano Unwala would deliver a final withering blow to his already chastised ego and then fling both axe and pique into the far corner of the room. There they would lie until the next time he picked them up, wobbling and mottling under their weight until he once again handed them gratefully back to her.
It was a good thing that neither Bano Unwala nor her husband held spousal grudges, or the end of their quarrels and the ebb and flow of life in general would have been worse than medieval torture. Quite entirely for Adar Unwala that is, who would have early on joined the ranks of the vanquished and deceased husbands who live on epileptically in the memories of their robust better halves. Bano would have prevailed of course and lived to tell the tale of her unending patience and fortitude.
So it was fortunate indeed that the couple quarreled in such perfect accord that while one gamely tossed up both their shares of invective and unholy suggestions into the fray, the other graciously fizzled all out. It was a match made in heaven … well, somewhere close to the cosmic limit of things.
Bano Unwala was a ship of a woman – 5’8” and magnificently girthsome. She carried her 150 kilos with the grace of a swan: bulbous limbs treading awkwardly but invisibly beneath yards of delicately billowing silk and chiffon. She was also the queen of her social realm and took full credit for all the fortuitous happenings in and around it. Whether it was a friend’s triple bypass that had gone roaringly well while she was resident at their home or the happy spell of rain that fell in the parched deserts of Dubai when she was visiting her sister, she was the unrivalled trustee and bequeather of the universe’s kindness in her environs. If the gentle patter of rain one day, however, was followed by a dust storm of epic proportions the next day that uprooted the shed and the dog kennel, sending them careening into the Arabian desert, well, that was squarely due to some faltering in the moral and ethical compass of her hosts. Something they had done to deserve this unholy wrath of which she too gamely and graciously partook with them, she would smile with moist eyes. Karma was quick and relentless she always said knowingly.
Adar had over his two decades with Bano, perfected his unreadable face: one which absorbed all but gave away nothing. For to pay attention was expected, but to disagree with his wife in company was tantamount to betrayal and would be dealt with likewise when he and Bano were alone. And so he would listen to his wife who in turn would enthral and terrify their friends and family with declarations of celestial favours and also of brimstone and hellfire. It was an oft performed, much loved scene delivered with queenly aplomb every single time. Bano didn’t socialize; she held court.
Adar Unwala was small and retiring. His life had been devoted quite entirely to being the second shadow of his formidable wife in the event that her own defected from under the sheer thunderousness of its owner. He was also the in-house punching bag and the inescapable other half of their marital equation. Adar Unwala cheerfully shouldered these various burdens, the optimism borne more out of habit and a tenacious will to live, than any obscure masochistic inclinations. He did in another lifetime, before being encircled in the hefty arms of marital bliss, have his brash and bold moments. But with time and the unflagging force of Bano, he had become quiet and wry. The former state of being made the latter quality especially prominent and entertaining. Adar Unwala didn’t have conversatons; he performed them.
Adar was also an avid reader. He was often driven to reading poetry which he discovered, was surprisingly effective in dispelling the clouds of gloom and doom that sometimes overtook him. It was not so much the substance of the verse, but the rhyme and meter that would slowly file off the sharp edges and bit by bit, let the sun into his soul again. His favourite genre however, one that he read when he was in full possession of his composure and his serenity, was memoirs of rags to riches industrialists and business tycoons. He read these tomes not so much to gain pithy insight into how to get rich. The Unwala coffers had been quite copiously overflowing for the past many generations. No, it was almost a catharsis in reverse psychology – how it would be to have nothing; to not be identified as one of the Unwalas or as Tajbano’s husband but simply as Adermard. His keen and extended perusal of the books to date however had led him to believe that most men liked being in the clutches of influence and power, and the occasional matriarch. As kismet would have it, he had gone into the sweeping embrace of the latter and had quite completely given up any delusions of the former. He had continued to read other men’s stories nevertheless, more for the occasional nuggets of bizarre personal eccentricities and foibles they sometimes threw at him. These he would then mull over with angst, awe or amusement, filling his time and his thoughts with existential what-ifs and wild imaginings. He loved his story time.
Bano and Adar had been together for twenty one years and had produced a happy hybrid of themselves in their son. Farshad had his father’s grey eyes and his mother’s unremitting gaze. He had also inherited his mother’s stature but by dint of hard work, had extricated himself from the legacy of her bulk. Still, he tended to carry himself like there were two of him. He was intelligent and self assured like his mother with a tendency towards an almost happy cynicism like his father. Everyone remarked about how he had won the DNA lottery.
Farshad Unwala hadn’t grown into adulthood; it had metamorphosed to fit him.
Read Part Two here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2022/07/22/the-dna-lottery-part-two/
I met Zainab after almost fifteen years. We hadn’t seen each other since school. We had been good friends growing up. Then my family and I moved to Canada and we somehow lost touch. I saw her that day when I went to pick my daughter up from Mrs. Abad’s Academy. Her son, Zain is in the same school. We recognised each other instantly. It was a warm reunion. There was none of the awkwardness of long absences and radio silences. We easily picked up from where we had left off a decade and a half ago. She was glowing.
I saw Marrya like an apparition. I was feeling a familiar tingle in the tips of my fingers and in the space behind my eyes – something was about to happen. She had smiled so widely and come up to me. We had hugged. I held on to her, trying to steady myself, to focus on something, to let the feeling pass quickly, unobtrusively. She had tears in her eyes. Why was she crying? I didn’t know why she was crying. I knew I should be concerned, I should ask her why. But I had to stop my mind from picking me up and whisking me away. Not there, not at that time. So I hugged her again. Outside, I kept focusing on the hug and on Marrya. Inside, I held on with both hands to the paling so that I wouldn’t be swept up in the current that was coursing through me. I don’t know how long I held her like that, but the episode passed. I could feel thermal waves undulating on my face and my chest, enfolding me in their warmth. I was back in control.
Marrya had been my best friend in school.
We met up a few times after that first encounter at our children’s school. She was the same … and also different. There was a serenity about her but there was also a wildness in her eyes sometimes. She would get agitated and then very still. Almost like there was something going on on the inside. Like a battle … maybe a conversation with herself. I wasn’t sure. Until Zainab talked to me. We were sitting in her home catching up on old times with a couple of hours to spare before picking up the children from school. I noticed her odd look then. One moment she was laughing and then … she held onto my arms, with that feral look in her eyes. She said she was having an episode. I looked at her not entirely understanding but somehow knowing that I needed to reassure her. So I nodded, encouraging her to talk. To tell me what was happening. She was dazed and confused for almost an hour. And incoherent. I tried to have her sip some water but she said she’d drown. I wanted to take her to the hospital, a clinic, but she shook her head. No! No! I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you. Wait, I’ll tell you. It took forty five minutes before she was herself again. I held her in my arms and she remained there quietly.
She then looked at me through calm, bright eyes. I could tell she was lucid, peaceful again. She then told me about her Glimmer.
I finally told Marrya about the Glimmer. I needed to tell someone and she was there with me again when I was … swept up. She seemed to understand … but in the way that normal people empathise with the handicapped: her face was sheathed in lines of concern and her kindness was effusive. I’m not being sarcastic. I was grateful to her for listening to me. For letting me talk. It was my first time talking of my inner self … my inner world, and the words were not coming easily. I was fumbling but she was listening. And I was grateful for that.
Like a dirty disease, the Glimmer … my Glimmer had stayed hidden, vilified and excluded for so long that it had begun to fester, spilling a dreary pall over my lucid days … hours. Someone else now knew and in some strange way I had this sense that it was essential – for Zain – that Marrya knew. I also felt a lightness of being; a headiness almost that my Glimmer had, through my words, found its way out. I was swept up again but in the real life throes of relief and joy. I laughed.
I hope Marrya doesn’t think I’m crazy. I’m really hoping she doesn’t. I didn’t tell her about Zoya and Gula. Time enough for that. She asked me why I wasn’t taking the medication and whether I believed in the mystic healing of Sufi saints. I think she was satisfied with my responses. I’ve refound a friend.
I was torn. Between my promise of secrecy to Zainab and the insticintive obligation I felt to let someone else know. I wanted to tell Asif, Zainab’s husband but I’d only ever met him once and he was out of town a lot. I wondered if he was aware of Zainab’s episodes; if he’d witnessed them … I wasn’t sure. Then I thought of talking to Zainab’s mother, Arifa aunty. She had always been a fragile, bird-like creature and from what Zainab had said, her delicate constitution had not fared well with time. She had moved to the UK to live with her sister when the latter had got widowed. That was a year ago. I had to think … I had to think about who to let in on Zainab’s state of well being …. her state of mind.
Was Zainab going crazy? Was she losing her mind? Did insanity run in her family? What about Zain? These thoughts now regularly ran headlong into me in my waking hours.
It was so quick. The van had come careening into our car. There was an explosion in my head. I felt a tidal wave carrying me away from the scene in front of me; away from the collision. I tried to concentrate on the steering wheel to regain control but everything was slipping away. Then I’d seen Zain lying there unblinking … dead? I had screamed then. Again and again. To hold onto him; to hold onto myself.
Then the accident happened. Zainab and Zain were in the car. Zain had broken his arm but he was alright. Zainab had hit her head and had been brought to the hospital, disoriented and confused.
I hugged Zain and told him everything would be alright. He was sitting with his father on the sofa outside Zainab’s room.
Zainab had sustained a severe concussion Arif had said. She was dazed but awake.
A concussion. Something in the pit of my stomach turned. I was afraid.
I walked in.
I was in a garden. It was shimmering in the late afternoon sunlight. I was sitting in a rocking chair.
How did I get into a rocking chair?
Something was not right …
Where was Zain? How was Zain? I felt for the cold, hard surface of the railing; I couldn’t see it but I felt it. I needed to get back.
I saw Marrya. She was faded, shadowy, her outline coming in and out of my sight. I grabbed her arm; I had to know before she disappeared. Before I disappeared.
Where is Zain?
He’s fine she said.
He’s fine I said. He’s fine … he is fine …. he is alright …
I breathed. I relaxed.
I lost my hold on the railing.
Zainab was looking straight up at the ceiling when I walked into the room. I called to her but she didn’t move. I went up to her and looked into her eyes. There was that wild look again. I felt my own heart beating wildly. I felt nauseous.
Where is Zain, she asked. I told her he was alright, that he was sitting outside with his father. After that she became calm. Stuporous.
I held her hand.
She finally closed her eyes and slept.
Zoya- You’re ok Mama. You’re ok.
Gula- You’re fine. Breathe
I was sitting in a garden. It was shimmering in the late afternoon sunlight. My favourite time of the day. The light was falling in beautiful undulating patterns on the grass: golden whorls and paisleys, fluttering tendrils and fronds played hide and seek with one another. All Gula’s exquisite handiwork. There was the sound of birds as they rallied themselves for one last forage before getting into their safe little spaces for the night. I was sitting in a rocking chair. I breathed. I smiled.
Gula – And here’s a steaming mug of tea – Tea Tang, Hillcrest, your favourite. And a book of short stories, with a little bit of the real, and a bit of the ethereal. Just like you like them.
Zoya, eyes shining- read one out loud!
I grinned. It was perfect.
Something had happened…. but it was alright now … I couldn’t remember anymore … but it was alright …
I was tired but I was so happy. I smiled at little Zoya and put her in my lap.
Tomorrow we’ll read. I kissed her little head as she leaned back on my chest. I put my own head back.
I finally closed my eyes and slept.
Read Part One here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2022/07/13/the-glimmer/
She felt her brain glimmer as it always did before she lost it.
Found yourself Gula had said from behind her hippocampus when she had been whisked into the inner spaces of her mind in those early days. Zoya had smiled her bright smile at her in cheerful confirmation of her sister’s mental wisdom. Gula was always foremost in telling it like it was. When she and the rest of the world were trying to make it right, make it all normal, Gula would put a spanner in the works … tell the truth. In a strange way, having the truth set free, always made Zainab feel better. Of course she never articulated out loud all this straight talk that was strewn more and more in her neural pathways by Gula. But she was secretly relieved that there was someone else to reassure her that she wasn’t alone .. that she wasn’t mad.
Little Zoya and Gula lived inside. In Zainab’s mind.
Zainab put away the ironing, deliberately, slowly and then sat down and began to rock back and forth gently, almost imperceptibly. She stared at the switch on the wall; she needed to focus on something to let the episode pass. She had to let it wash over her gently and without her full participation. She had things to do.
Today she couldn’t walk around the house with the glimmer. That only made it brighter, and when she roamed the house in its throes, she walked also into the furthest spaces of her mind where she would then be lost for hours at a time. What were fleeting moments of rest and relief within, were protracted hours of a psychotic episode outside. It was a balancing act that she had performed for the last fourteen months, never mastering it, always just scraping by. On the outside.
She kept her eyes glued to the wall switch. Gradually it’s innocuous cream colour filled with texture, kinetic layers and a myriad other hues in the snow white to clotted cream spectrum. She absorbed the details as she slowly stilled her mind. When she could see fluid little fragments of the silver-grey railing, she knew she could relax; she was at the waning end of her episode. The railing was always there – stretching behind her, in front of her and alongside her; not always visible, but always reachable. Even at the throbbing, pulsing heart of her Glimmer, she knew that as long as she could keep her grip on it she could find her way out; get back to real life. The paling shimmered hazily, insubstantially now as it moved in and out of her sight.. her mind. She concentrated. After a while, it slowly forged itself into an unbroken, glinting beacon guiding her back into the real world.
It had taken half an hour of concerted effort to wrest herself away from Zoya’s pleading voice and Gula’s requests to look at her needlework; her brain stitching. She made lovely patterns. Sometimes she cross stitched when the world outside was not so ferocious, and then Zainab could sense in the faintest of tones, what was happening outside; she would remain hidden and protected but Gula’s weave would let in little speckles of outside light and with them silent, fuzzy, slow moving images that made Zainab think of how old sepia-toned movies without sound might have been like. At other times, Gula would do a precise filling stitch to block out everything from the outside. Sometimes she would hem when Zainab was feeling especially anxious about having left something important undone before being whisked in. Gula would then gently neaten the frayed edges of Zainab’s mind, tucking away her anxiety in horizontal spaces that were 0.75 inches wide. Zainab would watch the hypnotic action of the needle going in and out, in and out, in and out in Gula’s deft hands, and she would feel better. Sometimes, however, Gula would rip it all apart. Zainab hated that but Gula said it was necessary sometimes to restart. To forget and begin again. Sometimes Zainab did forget and was able to begin again. At other times, she remembered and the new stitches Gula put in felt like lancing pin pricks in her body. Tridents of pain would poke at her head and her chest throughout the rest of the day.
She had things to do. It was Zain’s parent-teacher meeting today. She had to get ready and look the part in less than an hour.
“How did the PTM go”, asked Tariq when they were all sitting around the dinner table that night.
“It was alright. Zain is doing generally well” said Zainab smiling at her eight year old from across the table.
Zain shifted uncomfortably in his seat but he was grateful for this little lie by his mother. A white lie because he was having problems only with Urdu and Islamiyat. White lies were not as bad as … black lies. He smiled suddenly at this turn of phrase that had suddenly popped into his mind. He was sure he had come up with something new. He would ask Miss Malik tomorrow.
“Did you go with the driver?”
“Yes … yes i went with the driver. We even stopped at Burger King for lunch”, Zainab looked again at her son who was now smiling widely. She smiled back at him. These moments were so precious when she was in the same room, in the same time and space with her son. He had seen her mentally disappear from his world a few times and had over the past year become somewhat withdrawn. She had explained to him as best as she could that her mind worked differently and sometimes she needed to shut down on the outside so she could rest. Most people went to sleep to rest. This was like her sleep. He had listened quietly and had then turned his face away. He was too young to understand what was happening, Zainab had reasoned with herself. She needed to be around him more when she was … herself and less when she was gripped in the bewildering throes of an epoisode.
Zainab had been a teacher at one of the leading schools in the city. She had taught the grade five curriculum for over ten years before resigning just over a year ago, in the wake of her first glimmer. Unfamiliar with the two people who occupied that new world and unversed in the fluid tapestry of her mind, she had been afraid and anxious as she had walked into it that first time. Outwardly she had just zoned out.
The damn stress nowadays can do that. Go home darling, they’d said.
Take some time out, the principal had suggested.
You need to slow down, the doctor had ordered.
And so she had complied on all fronts. She had gone home, tendered in her resignation as a teacher and focused on being a housewife. She was also given a rainbow of pills to take every day. Beautiful little things, with deceptive inclinations. They were supposed to make her feel better, to relax her highly strung nerves. But they just made her numb, emotionless. She didn’t even want to look at Zain when she was in their deadening hold. So three months in, armed also with a better understanding that the Glimmer was not her mind’s version of a wasteland for loonies but her secret refuge, she had just stopped taking them. Her world …. worlds had changed. With time and the subtle machinations of her mind, reality had become a shifting concept as the Glimmer became more and more substantial, burgeoning with a constant stream of experiences as she was whisked back and forth. She had no command over the forces that buffeted her in and out of her two worlds. She had only learnt through sheer necessity, to sometimes control the amount of time she was pulled away from the world where she was a mother. Zain still needed her.
Read Part Two here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2022/07/14/the-glimmer-part-2/
I look at the book
Have I read it before?
It’s a throng of short stories
My favourite genre
I took it from the shelf
In my own home
So it has to be one of the
Still, as I glanced
At the back cover blurb
Nothing jumped out
Not a line, not a word
I looked at its front
Multi shades of grey
The image glimmered
In its dusky array
I opened the book
I had to recall
A story, a plot twist
A mystery resolved
In the 267 pages
I held in my hand
So I started reading
Page one, it began:
That day Alisha
Looked up at the sky
The purples and blues
Looked terribly awry …
The rest of the story
As I glanced through page two
Of the book from my shelf
Yes I had read it
The memory crept in
Of ETs and UFOs
And otherworldly things
Of skittering creatures
That had huge heads
Full of insidious plans
To make us all dead
Or not! Even in fiction
They were polite
Giving us choices
Now those are things
That are as alien now as
Well … human beings!
Laughing, I put
The Sci-Fi away
Our own lives were stranger
Than fiction these days
It’s your birthday today
And I wanted to say
That I wish I could see you
For a little while today
That your essence surrounds me
On all of my days
Even if you are a breath or eons away
That I love you
And I miss you everyday.
Even if my words limited as they are
While making their cosmic way to you
Should lose their form, be strewn apart
That the love in them still finds its way to you
I hope that you are happy and you’re well
I hope you still have your special sparkle
I hope you’re still lighting up lives
As a friend, a mentor, a spirit divine
I hope your radiant glow also reaches within
To make your big, lovely heart sing
My dearest I hope you get this message of mine
In these words, on the breeze or in the warm sunshine
My memories of you are full of joy
Uplifting, heartwarming, they don’t usually hurt
But today thoughts of you that flit through my mind
Bring a sweet achiness to my throat
It’s your birthday dear Mama and I wanted to say
May the choicest of blessings fill your time and space.
… Only because more and more it seems like the apple doesn’t fall far from its rotting, pestilential tree. But being the eternal optimist that I am, I’m hoping that a handful of the sons and daughters are at least questioning the political and entrepreneurial legacy they are inheriting from their thieving, deceiving, mobster parents and grandparents. But then I also think, who am I kidding! Still, here’s a verse which is probably farce by its very idealism.
I look at the statement
That I have received
At the burgeoning wealth
In my off-shore company
I revel in the fact
That I’ve paid zero tax
To the exchequer of my home country.
“Remember your legacy and your roots”
I always say to my progeny
They will of course some day
Fill my stompingly ample boots
I see the smirk
On my son’s face
It always gets to me
In some weird way
“I’m involved in this
On the edge of a knife!
For your sister and you
So get on the same page!
Boy, this churlishness
Is not a good look!
Show some gratitude!”
I thunder and rage
“You’re stealing from people
In thieving hoardes
Tradition and Legacy
Are just hollow words
If this is my ethos,
Why does it reek
Of insult, deception
Of sly treachery
I don’t want these roots
No, no thank you
These gnarled and twisted
Tendrils of greed!”
He looks at me
With storms in his eyes
Cutting me down to size
He looks at the statement
That he has received
Of the plundered millions
In his off-shore company
He holds it gently
Even as he upbraids
And tongue-lashes me
He now stares me down
I have to look away
But at least I found the courage
To finally have my say