OPINION|The Reluctant Martyrs

The “ill-fated” Pakistan International Airlines flight of May, 2020

As this pandemic rages on, the truth of things, the bare bones architecture of our flawed sensibilities and ethics are rattling like so many skeletons in our collective closet. It is almost an embarassemnt to be a part of the human species in this, our very own alternate Earth reality. Yes, it helps to believe that there are other universes where our little blue planet is faring copiously better on all human levels!

And so i feel constrained to give my two bits worth on the tragedy that befell scores of families who lost loved ones in the “ill fated” PIA commercial flight en route from Lahore to Karachi on May 23rd, 2020.

“Ill fated” – words full of the promise of a clean getaway; of insidious lies; of crass insensitivity; of cruel heartlessness; of passing the buck. Words that are used as copiously and as mindlessly as are the sacrosanct verses intoned 5 times every day to the Almighty. Somewhere along the way, our inner voice, our conscience- our very humanity was cast off as a burdensome, inconvenient companion, while the optically grandiose rites and rituals have marched stridently along with us through the ages.

Worse than the Covid 19 pandemic, is the ethical and moral pandemic ravaging our humanity, our sense of community and our work ethic. We have become insensible to all manner of injustice, lack of incumbency and the flagrant flouting of any semblance of a civic sense. We have lost not only our capacity for, but also our moral awareness of what it means to be compassionate, dutiful and responsible.

Worse than the tragedy of the event itself is the tragedy that there will be no definitive, resolute consequences to this incidence. It has already been accredited to fate and martyrdom and therein lies the sum total of the analysis, diagnosis and fix of a catastrophe that killed close to a 100 people, leaving families – children, parents, siblings, friends and relatives, bereft and shattered.

I can’t help but compare the almost negligible call to some kind of answerability in this calamitous incidence to the recent case of Dominic Cummings, Chief Advisor to the British PM. The man stepped out during the lockdown to seek childcare for his 4 year old son while both he and his wife were displaying Covid symptoms; an act that’s arguably open to some manner of interpretation as per the country’s Lockdown guidelines. And so, they could have/ might have exposed the public to the infection. There was no actual death or destruction wreaked; but the mere probability of harm embodied in the act of leaving his home during lockdown, was a culpable offence. Cummings was consequently subjected to a harrowing series of brutal questions, loud clamours for accountability and insistent calls for justice and even his dishonourable discharge by the state, the media and the body politic at large. While we, the self proclaimed stalwarts of our faith and of its copious prescripts on “Huqooq-ul-Ibad*”, have summarily dismissed a 100 fatalities as yet another act of God. The God that we are so adept at putting front and centre of all our duplicitous, corrupt and brutish actions.

Maybe if the state institutions, our political overlords and the general powers that be, began to think of this nation, first and foremost, as a Republic of Humankind rather than a bubbling, imploding cauldron of divisions and differences, there would be some hope for our humanity. And since we’re all such champions of liturgy, labels and nomenclature, maybe this change in our national identity would also have a more profound impact on how we conduct ourselves socially and morally. And maybe, just maybe, this vicious cycle of ‘copious cause and no personal consequences’ will break to allow just a little more conscience, answerability and justice to pervade the various “ill-fated” streams of our lives.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Huqooq-ul-Ibad: the responsibility/ duty every Muslim owes to the rest of his fellow beings, regardless of the others’ faith or spiritual leaning.

REFLECTION|The New Superhero: Your Inner Voice

Is it just me or is the universe really trying to say something to this little blue planet, the size of a pin point in the gigantism of the cosmos? Is it me or is nature needling us with just a little more force than it’s usual maternal nudge for us to finally awaken? Is it only me or is there something prognostic, sobering and depressing when we do “awaken” every so often and see what we’ve become? If it’s really only me feeling this sense of urgency to get the plot right on our Humanity; this sense of impending doom and gloom if we tarry longer; and this looming finality, good or bad, to life as we’ve known it, then I’m definitely a stray time traveller who’s arrived in the wrong alternate earth reality. In that case, woe is me because I’ll be carrying the burden of conscience for the entire planet while the rest of the 7.5 billion laugh all the way to their Corona-stupefied finales (or indeed fueled by any of it’s gamut of equally virulent cousins).

But that’s drama – for effect; I’m hardly Osho or any of the other spiritual giants that have come and gone, with their Third Eye* as wide open as the big blue sky. So it’s safe to presume that i echo the sentiments of many, many more when i say:

Look within you; stronger and more powerful than any religious doctrine or traditional wisdom, is your own Inner Voice. It has undergone 200,000 years of evolvement to be honed to this apex. Yet, it has stayed prodigally disregarded and has with time, become mute. Look within; teach it to speak to you again. Listen to its sage common sense, its intuitive compassion and its innate nobility. Let it flow through your senses; let it touch your heart, let it course through your very core.

Don’t be afraid to let your mind inquire; don’t be afraid to let it wander into secret passages that have been walled off by archaic conventions, rites and rituals. Don’t be afraid to take down those walls, stone by stone, rite by rite, ritual by ritual. Don’t be afraid to see; don’t be afraid to feel. Don’t be afraid to revel in the universal truths of equality, empathy and respect for all; and through it all, let your Inner Voice be your biggest cheerleader and champion.

Change your thinking; change your attitude; change your sense of self; change the way you interact with the world. Change the old ways that have sown strife, discord and division; be an Agent of Change, and let your Inner Voice be the brightest star in the firmament that lights up your path ahead.

Reach out. Reach out to your neighbour; reach out to your community; reach out to the shop assistant who’s been bagging your groceries for years; reach out to the municipal worker who’s been sweeping your streets for decades; reach out to the doorman whose ready smile has lifted your spirits more than once; reach out to the good, the bad and the ugly. Reach out to the world, and let your Inner Voice be your loudest megaphone.

It is time to meditate, ruminate and contemplate on all that makes us Human. It is time now to face up to the emergent truths, and indeed to exemplify and embody those truths with the fervour and passion of a tsunami. We are at the cusp, indeed at the crossroads, of the spiritual, cognitive and ethical evolution/ devolution of our species. Now more than ever, we need to think beyond our individual selves and look past the myopic lens of our self serving ideologies. Now more than ever, we need to define and embrace a new shared philosophy that is in line with everything that makes Humankind the most intelligent, aware, humane and beneficent super-species of our planet.

It is time to rouse from our stupor, dust ourselves off and take the ‘other’ fork in the road; the baton is in your hands and your guide is your Inner Voice.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Third Eye: the eye of insight; the ability to see beyond the obvious and the mundane.

OPINION|Where (Sh)eagles Dare*

As this pandemic rages on, gleefully rubbing together it’s glycoprotein-encrusted club-claws, we are absolutely befuddled, divided and overcome. As it continues to decimate our cities and our people, we watch on in demented awe, the dubious badge of honour of the Intelligent Species clinging comically to our faded lapels.

The Novel Coronavirus has blithely continued to wreak carnage in the face of every strategic, scientific, political and economic spear our male-dominated civilization has thrown in its path. It continues to ravage and plunder as entire nations are being brought to their already arthritic knees. It really does feel like we’re all part of an intensely immersive, exceedingly painful virtual reality game. And the “Strongman” here has no resemblance to the Homosapien Male: the ultimate distillation of millions of years of evolution, or God’s most pithy creation, depending on which philosophy you subscribe to. No indeed! The Big cheese here, is a Tiny terror with an insatiable appetite for human life- and it appears to be a gourmand of the male specimens of our species.

Enter: Women; the Grande Dames of Substance. So where have they been during this great blight? Where have they been wielding their sage influence from when everywhere else has been caught in the perfect storm of crippling economics, toxic male egos and a cataclysmic contagion?

They have been wisely, quietly insulating little geographical pockets around our planet; little precincts of peace, wellness and normalcy when all about them is pandemonium. Small havens to remind us of what we as intellectually advanced, emotionally intelligent creatures should be bringing to the human equation after 200,000 years of evolutionary bumbling about. From New Zealand to Taiwan; from Singapore to Denmark, Germany and Belgium; from Greece to Namibia; from Nepal to Norway – the pandemic charge is being led by women. These countries are faring markedly better than their male-run counterparts, on all fronts in the fight against the Bacillus Extremis. It therefore, doesn’t take a rocket scientist of the ilk of Mary Sherman Morgan, brilliant as she was even without a formal university degree in the 1950s, or the more recent millennial prodigy, Tiera Guinn, to see which gender is faring better against the unique and indeed formidable challenges of our current world.

The prescription for a more robust, mature, equitable, empathetic world order is clear as day: let the women take their turn at the helm of global affairs. Let them bring their innate competencies of generosity, community nurturing, compassion and good old common sense to the woefully beleaguered socio-political and economic realms of our lives. Give them the opportunity to lead from the front, hand in hand, in equal measure, if you will, with their male counterparts. Let them pilot us out of the choppy seas of national isolationism, divisiveness and war.

In the sedately glorious traditions of Khadija bint Khuwaylid, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie, Mother Teresa, Emilia Earhart, Razia Sultana, Florence Nightingale, Malala Yousafzai, and so many countless others, it is time for the women of the post pandemic world to stake their claim on our wounded planet and make it healthy, joyful and whole again.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Title inspired by a similarly named 1968 Richard Burton/ Clint Eastwood movie, of courage and gumption displayed in the face of extraordinary odds.

FICTION|Days of Purgatory – (Part 4)

Sabeen was reflective. Her life was on the verge of a vital transformation; for the better she fervently hoped. Because despite her single status, she still enjoyed the infatuation of her niche coterie of admirers: A couple of feudal landlords with American college degrees, and a few doctors who had had short but sprightly stints working in the western hemisphere before returning homewards. Both sets of suitors armed thus, with not only a foreign specialization but also, in their minds, a marvelously rejuvenated world view. This meant that they now felt abundantly amenable to breaking with the weighty bonds of age old tradition for the familial company of a mature (but delectable!) woman who knew her mind. And Sabeen, in her archetypal off-hand way, reveled in all this motely adoration.

She was shrewd enough, however, to slide off her otherwise frequently-worn rose coloured glasses when ruminating on important life issues. And so she found herself thoughtfully weighing the singular glory of being Nawabzadi* Sabeen against the more mundane exorbitance of being another gilded begum* in yet another one of the elite Punjabi families. Despite the former fortuity weighing down the scales in majestic excess, the toss up was bothering her. She was familiar with the lifestyles of her privileged friends and indeed, she herself hailed from much the same lineage as it was. That fact in itself guaranteed financial security, social status of the general-privileged variety, plenty of personal space and… Boredom. The titled position, on the other hand, was replete with exciting new promises of grandeur and glory. She’d be the only one amongst her friends and cousins who would have conquered this new social capstone.

Yet…. there was something she wasn’t quite sure of; and the burnish of vestigial royalty had a bit of a tarnished torpidity to it too…. She shook her head decidedly, repelling all these misanthropic notions. She was in fact, expecting to blithely deflect these very same reservations from other quarters, stemming as they would be from both, envy and concern. She was going to be one of the entitled few who would be written about in history books as Subcontinental Royalty!

A slow smile spread across her visage, reaching her eyes and making her face glow delicately. In that moment, she looked quite majestically beautiful!

The evening at Farzana’s last week had been enjoyable, despite the somewhat bizarre ending. She’d had to sit Fara down and explain to her in succinct, gentle, repeated affirmations that she was going to be married soon. Farzana had taken it in slowly and had finally smiled. Although the wide wide smile was contrived, she also knew that it was Fara’s way of coping with the news. Of coming to terms with her banner of singledom now doing it’s solitary undulation in No Man’s Land; treaded only by the wearisome few that Farzana had already done her courtship dance with. But no matter, she was going to make sure Fara was a part of everything now – there had to be some universal meaning, some karmic context to why she’d felt so impelled to share her secret with Fara…. even if it was in a gluttonously benumbed state of mind.

And so, this evening there was to be another soiree at Farzana’s, for the pure benefit of introducing to her friend, Sahibzada Saif Muzammil Shah, Heir Apparent to the Royal Takht* of Bahawalpur, and also her paramour. He’d said he was in town for some work with his lawyer and was staying overnight; and that he would be delighted to spend the evening with the ladies.

Farzana sat on her bed, staring into space. Desultorily she picked up the mug of coffee set there by Shabana and took a tentative sip of the sweet, milky liquid. Their reunion the day after Sabeen’s visit had been fiery, teary and then affectionate, in a dizzying sequence of emotions as their post-spat reconciliations tended to be. All was well with her domestic world. But something else had fallen apart….Farzana felt isolated and even betrayed. In the wake of this impending betrothal, her best friend, her partner in crime and her cherished arch nemesis who at the end of the day, like Farzana, had unwaveringly maintained the Ms. In her title, was reneging on their shared conundrum. But it had been a happy conundrum full of the heady highs of new love and the showy shenanigans of early courtship, as each tried to best the other. Now, she was going to be alone; and her past liaisons suddenly appeared depressingly stark in their fickle, disappointing realities.

“Hai Allah! Ab kya karoon”(1) she sighed despondently.

It wasn’t fair. Sabi was not only getting married, she was going to be the Nawabzadi of Bahawalpur! And with acquiescing to host the reception this evening, she genuinely felt like a lamb leading itself to the slaughter. Her absolute selflessness, she thought, and thus her duty to her best friend was complete with this generosity of spirit. She sighed again, delicately, misplacedly, clutching the right side of her chest.

And so despite wishing Sabi the worst of luck and resenting her with every breath in her body, Farzana was convinced she had taken the high road with this show of solidarity with her best friend. Her feelings of martyrdom grew and she felt saintly and ethereal, much like Mother Mary in all those nativity scenes, she thought in momentary awe of the ensuing mental image.

Her thoughts then wandered as they are wont to when the heart is caught in purgatorial limbo, and she frowned slightly. She suddenly felt an onrush of aversive thoughts: had it been any of Sabi’s other friends, they’d have picked her to pieces with jealousy. She, Farzana, was always the large hearted, gracious one in matters of the heart she thought with the dramatic certainty of a celluloid saint. At some point, the genuine despair had blended with high drama and Farzana, even with all her accumulated affliction, was now feeling quite fortified to charm and conquer. Her intended conquests of the evening had hazy outlines but her very nature compelled her towards a social horizon where she would, at the very least, stand shoulder to shoulder with Sabeen again.

She looked at the old Champion clock on the wall; it was just past 3pm. She got up blinking brightly; she had to look her best. She walked towards her teeming wardrobe, its ancient depths waiting faithfully to bedeck her yet again in all their idiosyncratic glory.

Nawabzadi: princess or lady of a royal house/ lineage

Begum: matriarch of the house; a term used generally by the privileged classes in the subcontinent.

Royal Takht: Royal seat/ throne

(1) – “Oh God! What do I do now!”

De Khudai pe aman.

PANDEMIC 2020|For Whom the Curfew Ceases

(A soapbox on Breaking Free, the Outdoors and Vegetable Markets)

In my Book of Life in all its quirky fullness, May 11th, 2020 will probably go down as some version of a post Pandemic Independence Day. After almost 8 weeks of an almost spirit-breaking curfew, I, albeit briefly, embraced the great urban outdoors again; and it was absolutely sublime in all its beloved mundane glory!

The infinite visceral pleasure of the excursion has so hit me in my cardiac periphery, that to log it, i feel compelled. Just so i can re-read it on endorphin-challenged days for a good old pick-me-up! Re-connecting post facto with such fortified bursts of creativity bests any number of synthesised mood enhancers, said someone astute, I’m sure, at sometime!

I woke up with the lark….well… with the happy go lucky larks in my circadian world, which means at just a little past 9am. With a spring in my step, i got ready, passing the Lipstick Test with absolutely tripping colours! I felt the anticipation building with every indoor step taken to finally reclaim the outdoors; of finally stepping on real asphalt after 2 whole months in absolute time, and a couple of millennia on the psychological clock.

A similarly curfew-fatigued friend was going to be my partner in crime. We left our bacillus-sanitized footwear inside, put on our microbe-fighting gear and thus bolstered, ventured forth on Day 53 of the curfew.

The feeling – it was climactic, it was thrilling, it was invigorating, it was emancipating – it was absolutely momentous!

We drove down Galle road, taking in everything that was so familiar and yet so removed from what our lives had now become. The nearby hotel, the adjoining mall, the normally bustling Colpetty intersection flanked by it’s imposing trinity of superintending lions. Now looking forlorn and….hungry even! We gave them a cheer and a wave and i’m sure, a touch of our rhapsodic certainty of better times to come!

Our first stop, the vegetable and fruit market, was a sight for lockdown-sore eyes! More than half the shops were open, displaying rows upon rows of colourful plenty! Their vendors beaming happily, radiant smiles reaching conviction-brightened eyes on otherwise masked faces. It was all the beauty of hope springing eternal! I gave in to the knee jerk reaction born of shopping from the much awaited, not always optimally stocked fruit and vegetable trucks that we’d been relying on for our daily sustenance such as it was! And so on the 11th of May, 2020, I picked up enough perishables to stock a mid-sized vegetarian restaurant for a fortnight. My fridge now, is filled to capacity, it’s compressor groaning in censorial remonstrance, while my left ventricle dedicated to all thing vegetarian, swells with joy at every glance inside.

We next blazed our Freedom Trail along the 2 main roads traversing the city; looking, sighting, exclaiming as we saw timorous but intrepid signals of our urban paradise coming back to life: Little shops already open, leading the charge on the city’s sojourn to normalcy. Bigger establishments showing their own preparation with winking reflections of brooms, mops and buckets gathered in blithesome groups behind glass facades. Then back towards the homestead along the sea circuit; just for a while though!

Our Independence Day celebrations spilled blissfully into the evening too, as we then headed for the Racecourse. It had been 2 months since I had last treaded those much-loved flagstones. The track lay ahead of me, almost shimmering in all it’s cardio potential; and my mind was flooded with all the dramatic epochal music accompanying all the transcendent events in all of celluloid history! (My high energy playlist could have had something to do with that adrenalin rush too!). And so, those 11 brisk-walked circuits of the Independence Square quadrangle are now etched in my memory quite in the iconic manner of the one small step for a (wo)man but a giant leap for all of (wo)mankind!

The catharsis was finally complete as we drove homeward, into the curfew-bound arms of our current reality.

The feeling – It had been rejuvenating, it was heart-warming, it was calming and even a trifle funny as Farrokh Bulsara* reminded us of the fickle nature of one-off days of freedom….

“So baby can’t you see

I want to break free…!

I’ve got to break free….

I want to break free…!

De Khudai pe aman.

*Farrukh Bulsara: aka Freddy Mercury of the 70s British rock band, Queen.

FICTION|2020: A Cosmic Odyssey

THE GENESIS

“It was the winter of our global discontent as we looked to the only country we’d been conditioned to, for solutions to all our real and existential problems”. That was a recurring information echo in my head after our last Ripple Effect Round Table* (Re-Rt). There was some compelling information to be had; some momentous intervention to be made, in the early decades of the 21st century. So now that It was my turn to follow the Infinite Ripple, I chose to wormhole* to the 45th President of the United States of America, the most powerful man on the planet in AR (Alt. Reality) Earth 42:0.

I had done my regular Ripple Voyage* prep on him. He was usually done with his presidential duties such as they were by late afternoon, and the subsequent hours were spent increasingly in a mixture of bewilderment, resentment and fury. His emotional feedback through the RE-Rt had been wildly ricocheting, charged with intensity and disquietude. The last time I’d experienced these vagarious cognition waves, was in the eVR* version of Arthur C Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey*. His primitive man had emanated this cacophony of jangling emotions. I had had vertigo for 2 days after that. But this rubric of primordial sensational commotion had been rinsed from the human psyche centuries ago. So this was an unexpected aberration. Serendipitous really, in the otherwise temperate oceans of evolvement. I was ecstatic. I was quite ready to get under the skin of Donald J. Trump.

I had wanted to pick a discourse with him between 3 and 6pm on a Sunday afternoon. These days he was usually at the White House. In the wake of a microbial blight, the world had pretty much changed, and so had the president’s residential habits, albeit, rather more cantankerously: Mar-a-Lago* continued to be an off-hours preference.

Precise 5D positioning in wormhole antimatter is still an elusive art form. And so I found myself in President Trump’s bedchambers at 10.43pm on a Pandesday* – the planet was largely in the throes of pandemic pandemonium and specific days of the week bore only timorous significance.

He was in his red pyjamas and was leafing abstractedly through January’s Issue of People’s magazine. His hair was in a little cascade of a ponytail on the top of his head, showing sizeable swathes of delicate pink baldness on either side. A little wave of Perception Clearance* and I was comfortably ensconced in a wing chair while he glanced up just once to acknowledge my presence.

Experience Log no. 1100/ AR Earth-42:0/ 2020/ Donald J Trump/ POTUS/ President’s Bedroom, The WH

Me: “Hello Mr. President. I’m Maya* from AR Earth 22:7″.

D.Trump: “Yes hello. Have you seen this photo of Meryl Streep? She looks frumpy. And believe me, she’s not. I always debunk Fake News. She should call out these unclassy magazines that make her look like Rosie O’ Donnell”.

Me: “That’s an unbecoming statement Mr. President”.

D. Trump: “Never liked the woman. Never liked the look of her either”.

Me: “There’s a pandemic on the planet. It appears to be quite serious. There are 1,233,402 dead already”.

D.Trump: [looking vaguely interested] “Really? That many?”

[Then looking suspiciously] “You’re not from Fake News yourself are you?”

[Then almost petulantly] “They’ve always got their daggers drawn against me”

Me: “I’m from Earth-22:7 sir, like I told you. Earth 42:0 has been whispering discordantly of late. I’m here to listen. Listening has a very special ripple effect in our shared cosmos”.

D.Trump: “I’ll tell you something then. I ran for president because I was an entertainer, a showman. I got a kick out of it. And I got stuck with the ball that I’m supposed to hoop in all these weirdly incredible ways . I don’t even like basketball. I’m a baseball kind of guy myself. Not that I’ve seen anything new on that front recently either”.

Me: “You’re the President of the most powerful country on the planet now”.

D.Trump: “I didn’t really ask for it. But yes I am! These damned Republicans were like headless chickens. I just wanted to have a bit of fun, get the cheers, the love. And 6 months later, let Clinton’s wife do all the boring presidential stuff”.

Me: “You have an opportunity to make a difference in the USA and indeed the world”.

D.Trump: “I have been doing just that. Been meeting with princes, princesses, queens sheikhs and dictators”.

[A small chuckle at this point] “Should I tell you a secret? …. I love that Kim Jong-un. We call each other all the time to talk about what we’ve had for dinner. Taco bowls are his favourite! That boy likes good old American fast food. I’d have invited him to Mar-a-Lago for a nice vacation but those Fake News people won’t let me live it down”.

Me: “That does sound counter-intuitive politically, but quite congenial on the human front”.

D.Trump: “He’s the king of all he surveys! No fake news there! Gave me quite a scare when he went awol recently. I like the guy…. although he could do with a decent haircut….”.

Me: “Mr. President, the world is in a state of flux. There’s disease compounded by unsurity, fear and disharmony. You’re in the perfect position to lead the global charge here”.

D.Trump: “It’s those crazy Chinese. The morons let the Wuhan Virus loose upon all of us. I’m just bored with all this death, death, death! Believe me, sometimes I think they’re making up all these numbers just to make me look bad….. Anyway, Mike Pence is dealing with it”.

Me: “Sir, some empathy goes a long way. EQ* is so much richer than any IQ”.

D.Trump: “Who’s that? Is that another Arab sheikh? Those Middle Easterners have a lot of money, and do damn all. Got a couple of billion green backs off them though. I am a businessman and I’m incredibly good at what i do”.

Me: “It’s a precious inflection point in time Mr. President. What the world leaders do now will have ripple effects for centuries to come”.

D.Trump: “You don’t say! I had done a great job with the economy. We were winning so much, we were almost tired of winning. The China virus has blown it all. I feel like kicking SleepyCreepy Jo* and Pocahontas* in the knees right now. You know for letting-off-steam reasons. And also because I hate them”.

Me: “Choose the nobler path. Use your office, your position to bring the people of the world together once again to fight a common adversary”.

D.Trump: “Do I look like Saint Peter? It’s every country for itself. America first!”

Me: “Then it’s the beginning of the end”.

D.Trump: “It sure is. We’re the United States Corporation of America. Not a charity”.

Me: “You’re the epitome of what’s going wrong with humanity sir. And it’s odd… but I see no cognizance of it on your part, nor any self awareness. It’s tragic.

I wish you well Mr. President. Goodbye”.

Ending Remarks: Earth 42:0 was/is tilting precariously on its cosmic equilibrium when it had called out to the universe. It’s spiritual cognition is impaired, it’s heart is displaced, it’s leadership is in disarray, and its people, indeed all its creatures great and small, are sick and dying.

Probable Prognosis: The end of a Cosmic Epoch and of Humankind.

GENESIS: The Novel Corona virus is in Transformation Cycle T+1. Evolution to Species Intelligentes*: Approximately 5 billion years.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Ripple Effect Round Table: Somewhere in an advanced alternate universe, there are sophisticated human beings that are looking out for all of Earth’s vulnerable alternate versions. AR Earth 42:0, our world, is the hardest hit as its very energy and life force is in calamitous dissonance. The RE-Rt is a select group of people which attempts to bring balance, harmony and synergy to all life across the cosmos.

*Wormhole: a structure linking disparate points in spacetime.

*Ripple Voyage: time travel to fix epochal cosmic issues

*2001: A Space Odyssey: A 1968 science fiction novel by British science writer, futurist and inventor, Arthur C. Clarke.

*eVR: Enhanced Virtual Reality

*Mar-a-Lago: A resort and national historic landmark in Palm Beach, Florida. Owned now by Donald Trump.

*Pandesday: any day in the course of the Novel Corona lock down.

*Perception Clearance: a shifting of energy to harmonise 2 alternate realities to facilitate inter-dimensional contact.

*Maya: In Hinduism/ Buddhism, the power by which the universe becomes manifest; the illusion or appearance of the phenomenal world.

EQ: Emotional Quotient- a measure of emotional intelligence.

*SleepyCreepy Jo: Trump’s savaging of Joe Biden – Ex VP and the 2020 Democratic Presidential Hopeful.

*Pocahontas: Trump’s savaging of Elizabeth Warren – US senator and Ex 2020 Democratic Presidential Hopeful

*Species Intelligentes: Intelligent Species, in Latin.

Some Trump favourites (or as close as online research of a day produced):

Favourite Actress: Meryl Streep

Favourite Sport: Baseball

Favourite Arch Nemesis: Rosie O’ Donnell

Favorite Words/ Phrases: Moron, Stupid, Incredible, Fake News, Great, Crazy, Believe me, Winning, Damn, (Un)classy, A lot of money, Wuhan Virus, Chinese Virus, America First!

Favorite Food: Junk food including the Mexican Taco bowl

Logic for the Numbers used:

No. 42: the alleged answer to life and the universe as a whole.

No. 420: a colloquialism used in Urdu/ Hindi to depict slyness/ insidiousness

No. 1100: Mar-a-Lago address

No. 22/7: the value of Pi – the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. It has special significance in nature too.

FICTION|Days of Purgatory – (Part 3)

“I have a bit of a secret to tell you”, said Sabeen lounging contentedly on the sofa near the wall.

Dinner had been fabulously satisfying. She’d had two helpings of the fettuccine in all its curried glory and had just finished a not ungenerous slice of hot apple pie. The sprites of Gastronomical Excesses were prancing merrily around in her stomach while the much-worshipped gods of Abstinence were only vague entities in her subconscious for now. The satiated body had further banished discretion and circumspection as the evening wore on. There was no cautionary gut feel nor any premonitory sixth sense reining in her excitement and her urge to share her joy. She was on the tipping point of divulging the ultimate secret; an affair so close to her heart that she hadn’t breathed a word about it to anyone yet for fear of jinxing the whole business.

Farzana looked up at Sabeen expectantly, her eyes bright, the ice cream laden spoon forgotten mid-air. She loved a good secret and Sabi usually wasn’t very forthcoming with her confidences. Farzana on the other hand, compelled by force of habit and an actual physical discomfort in the company of an unshared secret, happily let loose the flood gates when thus encumbered. This was going to be quite a treat!

“Kya? Batao na…..”(1), Farzana responded tentatively, afraid to disturb the amenability of the moment. One could never tell with Sabi she thought; one moment she was happy and talkative and the next, like a closed up clam with social issues.

Sabi was making her wait it out as always. Farzana felt the hair on her arms prickling in anticipation and also a growing sense of wariness. Uncharitable thoughts began glutting her mind… despite being one of her best friends, Sabi had always resented her more “privileged love interest” liaisons. There had been one occasion in fact, where she’d come and stolen her man right from under her nose! She ignored the nagging post script that always followed that thought….the fact that he had always maintained that he and Farzana were never “going out”, and that he had told her quite early on that he was interested in her friend from Faisalabad. Even so, she thought, he and Farzana had attended two parties together; granted it was together with other friends. But he was Mian Jalaluddin’s grandson and she had exclusive entitlement until he had seen the light of day and reciprocated. He would have – ultimately, Farzana thought ruefully, had Sabeen not come into the picture. The memory of the day she’d invited Sabi over to meet Arsalan still made her cringe with ardent regret. Her only consolation was that that entanglement hadn’t lasted long!

She caught Sabi looking at her thoughtfully. Farzana was getting visibly agitated at not only the prospect of being secret-deprived at the nth hour of confidence-sharing, but also by the strange look on Sabi’s face.

I’m your best friend yaar. Mujh se kya chupana. I’m like an open book with you. Batao na”(2), Farzana cajoled, moving closer to the still reposing, still contemplating Sabeen.

“I’m getting engaged, Fara; to the Nawab* of Bahawalpur”, came the deadpan response. Delivered with just that air of indifference to make it into a screaming headline.

Sabeen looked at Farzana, a slow smile spreading across her face. She knew her friend enough to expect any of a range of emotions; barely concealed resentment being one of the more realistic predispositions on this occasion. As time had lapsed, their bachelorette banner had determinedly unfurled in Spinster Territory, changing perceptions, prospects, attitudes and with it, notions of self worth. And Farzana was painfully besieged by the change in social status, spawning a wave of desperate love affairs and subsequent unpredictable outbursts. Sabeen was earnestly hoping this wasn’t one such instant; she was really hoping, yearning for a propitious ending to this evening.

Farzana blinked uncertainly, and slowly put the dripping spoon of ice cream into her mouth. She felt hassled and unsure; hassled about whether Sabi was in fact telling the truth, and unsure whether she herself had heard it right.

“Kaunsa nawab?(3) What are you saying? Farzana managed to ask, looking agitatedly at Sabeen. Her feeling of unease grew as the enormity and sensibility of the affirmation dully sank in. She swallowed hard, her mouth suddenly feeling dry even as she sensed the sweet liquid sliding down her throat. She was unaware of the change in her expression or her bearing as she stared unblinkingly at Sabeen while hunched over in an almost foetal position in the chair opposite. She waited for a response; laughter, some reassurance that this was just a really terrible joke.

Sabeen sat up and looked directly at Farzana, taking both of her hands in hers. She suddenly felt an intense desire to have her friend acknowledge her joy, and to be happy for her. She wanted Fara to understand that this was not just another ephemeral burst of scarlet on the romantic horizon. This boded longevity and was replete with not only the rainbow hues of new love, but also the seasoned shades of grey that constituted a real relationship. This was going to be her “happily ever after”.

Farzana looked on in confused fascination; at this point, she was only aware of the maniacal intensity of Sabeen’s hold of her hands and thinking if in fact her friend had finally given in to senility just shy of her 50th birthday. She was talking of Nawabs and horses and knights….had she said horses or princes…? She wasn’t quite sure. But there was music playing, so Farzana did the only thing that seemed lucid to her at the time.

She pulled up a startled Sabeen and said, “let’s dance meri jaan(4)….. all those extra calories you’ve had today are making you sound crazy!”

And she whirled her friend around the room, grinning loonily while humming along to Jenny Young’s quirky love refrain:

“….Here is a heart,

I made it for you so take it.

Battered and braised,

Grilled and sautéed

Just how you like it…”

De Khudai pe aman.

(1): “What? Tell me…”

(2): “What do you have to hide from me…… tell me”

(3): “What prince?”

(4): “my love”

*Nawab: ruler/ prince. (Largely a figurative title now but still respected as incumbents of a privileged lineage).

FICTION|Days of Purgatory – (Part 2)

“….. If you change your mind, I’m the first in line, Honey I’m still free, Take a chance on me!” Farzana hummed along to ABBA’s whimsical lyrics as she sat in the lounge, clumsily dabbing on the 4th layer of metallic silver nail polish on her fingernails. The 2 battery operated tealites were already dancing a merry jig on the wall from where Farzana’s grandfather’s portrait, enshrined in a gilt-edged frame, looked on in grim remonstrance. It was just a little past 8pm and house no. 64 in GOR* was buzzing with high spirited energy and excitement. The evening looked very promising indeed, in the wake of juicy gossip to share and sultry confidences to bestow and receive.

Finally there was the grating squeal of the gate being opened and the crunch of the driveway gravel underfoot – both sounds now almost subliminal nuances of incoming visitors who were still 10 feet or so away from the main door. A little window of opportunity which Farzana always utilised to look herself dead in the eye in the lounge mirror, followed by a quick all over glance ending (most times!) in a final pleased pout.

“Sabi jaan!(1) It’s been too long!, exclaimed Farzana giving Sabeen a quick hug and 2 airy kisses in the relative proximity of her cheeks, while she ushered her in. Sabeen smiled broadly, looking in turn, at Farzana’s face and then at the fat golden brown braid of hair perched precariously on top of her head.

“It’s always fabulous to see you, babe! Sabeen said laughing exultantly.

“I’ve ordered your favourite dish from the club and your favourite dessert. You’re not still dieting are you? Aaj tau na kar yaar!(2)” Farzana pleaded cajolingly, taking her friend’s hand.

“You know i don’t have carbs at night; it’s always just a salad and some fruit. How do you think i maintain this body, meri jaan(3)? But i will have copious cups of tea”, Sabeen responded while looking around her.

The house was looking shabbier, dowdier and sadder. Over the years, the sparkle and gleam facilitated by copious government contracts accorded in the 60s and 70s to Mohammad Iftikhar Buksh, (Farzana’s father, who was also Sabeen’s father’s childhood friend) had waned with the timorous finality of the end of an epoch. Farzana remained an odd spectre of that era, languishing absurdly in the throes of practical everyday life.

Sabeen looked at Farzana with an almost tender look and then sighed. Farzana was a difficult person to be nice to, and Sabeen accepted also, that she herself wasn’t a saint either. So for the past 50 years, the affiliation between the two was generally that of strained congeniality, sugar-coated with exaggerated shows of affection. Occasional verbal sparring sessions helped to balance out the socially-impelled relationship sophistication.

Anyhow, thought Sabeen, it had been 6 months since she had last seen Fara. Having known this childhood friend since they were toddlers, she could easily read Farzana’s excitement and genuine pleasure to see her. Sabeen’s heart too, was feeling light and yielding. Today, they’d chat, they’d laugh, they’d connect, and then there would be the blithesome physical and material dissection of all the eligible men in town, and the happy prospecting of new beaus on the urban horizon. In all the discordant milieu of their association, she stolidly shared her involuntary single status with her friend. A shared nemesis, which had been the dubious trigger for more than a few misunderstandings between the two, she thought wryly. All in all though, Fara wasn’t a bad sort; she was just plagued by her own demons as were most people including herself, she thought in that charitable moment of reflection.

Sabeen leaned back in the sofa with a satisfied sigh. She’d probably peg today down as a cheat day – that fettuccine looked just like the mouth-watering curry hybrid we desis* love so much, and were so spectacular at concocting around every cuisine. The light trundle of the tea trolley propelled her diet-shy gut into a tentative rumbling dance.

She smiled to herself ….Princess Sabeen! Maybe…. probably… hopefully! She laughed at her own animated buoyancy, while another little delightful secret also flitted around the periphery of her present elation.

De Khudai pe aman

*GOR: Government Officers Residence – an elite neighbourhood in Lahore where the privileged segment of the bureaucracy resides

(1) – “love

(2) –“my friend, at least today, don’t!”

(3) – “my love”

*Desi: a colloquial term used to define the residents of the larger subcontinent comprising of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

FICTION|Days of Purgatory – (Part 1)

“Kya museebat hai! Aa rahi hoon na!”(1), came the plaintive screech from the inner sanctum of the house. With A fleeting look of trepidation on her face, Shabana the part-time domestic hesitated momentarily outside her querulous employer’s bedroom door. Then with a toss of her well oiled head, she turned back towards the kitchen. She’d show her!

Within the somniferous recesses of the room, Farzana was lounging in bed, kohl-lined green eyes closed, a smear of red lipstick on her chin and a bandana tying back unwashed hair. It was a sunday evening; tomorrow was office again. The relentless ghosts of Weekend-Past had always sung their doleful dirge to her for as long as she could remember. But Farzana was nothing if not ardently buoyant and had always held these phantoms at bay with dogged contrivance. This usually meant a longer than usual afternoon nap suffused with soulful visions of luxurious foreign trips for two, extravagant parties on the arm of some Mr. Delicious and generally canoodling with all manner of knights in shining armour while being exultantly enagaged in a variety of high society shenanigans. Her immutable adage: If one dreams hard enough, dreams do come true. And so Farzana had spent the last 20 years in the protracted throes of Sunday afternoon REMs* that could brimmeth a romantic sea or two over.

The ringing of her mobile phone put a definitive end to her already waning weekend stupor. She picked it up with the jaded weariness of a finch in a cage. It was a friend who was visiting from Faisalabad and with whom she had a complicated relationship as relationships go between two world-weary, yet desperately optimistic females of a certain age. She was coming over for dinner. The typical Sunday evening dullness started to fade in the burgeoning glow of anticipation and excitement, and Farzana almost smiled. She got up languorously as she contemplated her overflowing wardrobe, replete with fashion assurances spanning at least three riotously effusive decades.

Farzana walked to her bedroom door, with a skip in her step. She was almost decided on what she was going to wear, including the hair piece which made her look like royalty; well, political royalty at least. She had always liked Yulia Tymoshenko’s* thick plaited hair that she wore like a tiara; and she’d been practising her faux braid-atop-the-head look for just such an occasion. She was going to dazzle tonight!

“Shabana! Shabaanaa! Ander aajao. Mehmaan arahay hain aaj raat!”(2), Farzana yelled through the open kitchen door into the falling dusk outside. She had a knotty affiliation with her maid as both faithfully lived out the entirety of the dramatic domestic plots of all the Indian soaps ever aired. The conflict originated from both women artfully and emphatically portraying the insidious role of the mother in law, while neither was capable of personifying the demurely mute bahu*. The resulting sparks were the stuff of Stephen King’s Firestarter* plots – on steroids. For now, the arduously-employed had voluntarily relieved herself of her domestic duties and had gone to her brother’s house on the other side of town. She wouldn’t be back tonight. This act of rebellion still didn’t dampen the ebullient spirits of the evening. Farzana would order in from the club – Fettuccine Alfredo and apple pie ala mode. The old family retainer was still around and despite her failing eyesight and an incorrigible disposition for small talk with all and sundry, she’d undertake the making of the tea and the wheeling in of the trolley.

It was 6.30pm. Farzana had an hour and a half to look the part of the pampered, carefree denizen of her abode. She wore leather jeggings and a fuschia satin top that fitted just a tad too snugly around her troublesome middle. Over time, she’d lost the affinity for exercise and also the self consciousness that comes with the somewhat latterly acquired corpulence. Her legs were still her best feature, and she preened in front of the mirror in decades old Guccis that had faithfully withstood the naphthalene-assailed tests of time. The face was then meticulously creamed, powdered and rouged in a timeless regimen that too, had been assiduously passed down the line by similarly festooned matriarchs of the family.

She bustled about the house, every so often glancing appreciatively at the image in the cabinet mirror, pouting fish-mouthed, back at her.

Yes, she was consummately primed to be the Queen of the night.

De Khudai pe aman

(1): “What’s the problem! I’m coming out already!”

(2): “Come inside, we have guests coming over tonight!”

*Bahu: daughter in law in Urdu/ Hindi

*REM: Rapid Eye Movement A phase of sleep accompanied by low muscle tone and the propensity to dream vividly

*Yulia Tymoshenko: Former PM of Ukraine (2005- 2010)

*Firestarter: A 1980 Stephen King novel about a lass who is an accomplished arsonist in the tradition of most reviled, ostracised anti heroes

OPINION|What a Wonderful World!

I’m being facetious. It is quite far from being any version of wonderful, cohesive or civilised. As the Novel Corona traipses through our towns and cities like a merciless diabolist, we as humankind, as a planet, could not be rent more asunder.

How did we get here? When did all the values of humankind that stirred the heroic tales of yore become so tenebrous, so archaic? How did we become so divided, so intolerant, so extreme? How, despite belonging to the same species, did we become so “different”? And how did those contrived differences take on such a toxic, pestiferous life of their own?

We, as human beings, have been teetering on the edge of our humanity for some time now. The constant slide towards the precipice of retrogression has been insulated only by the crowdedness of our lives and the increasing obscureness of what we are, at our very core, as civilised beings. Indeed, we have, for quite some time now, been navigating the waters of life with a broken moral compass.

The stark wretchedness of our complete inability to come together as a global collective with a common objective has been grimly parodied by the current pandemic. It has laid bare that which was barely concealed: the self-defeating, meteoric rise in national isolationism and exclusionary economics. It has highlighted the dangerous precedent set by the Post-Trump “America/ My Country First” mantra, while any similitude of a global community ideology/ platform has become a mere spectre in the darkness of the 2020 world stage.

If one steps back to look at where we are after 200,000 years of evolvement, even the most practical and jaded amongst us would cringe at what we bring to the Evolutionary Table. The Novel Corona has struck at the very core of our collective societal and sovereign ethics, morality and probity, exposing them for the tarnished chattels they have become. It has, however, also afforded us the opportunity to visualise the propitious crossroads we are at, as a species.

“The Anthropocentric Age – the first age in which humankind is the dominant species on the planet – cuts both ways: it is up to us to destroy or save the planet. We certainly have the ability”, said Craig Ventor. Can we then, overcome our disparate, divided egos and concertedly embark on an intrepid new philosophy for A Brave New World? Or are we going to wait for that epochally-inevitable “Alien/ Divine” intervention to then put us on the straight and narrow?

In the words of Issac Asimov: “It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be”.

Right now, viewed from a cosmic lens, Earth appears to be blunderous, sick and unkind. That is not the legacy we want to leave to the universe.

De Khudai pe aman.