VERSE| IN NATURE’S EMBRACE

The green of the earth 
And the blue of the sky;
The cool, mellow breeze
That caressingly passes by.

The trilling of the birds
The humming of the bees;
The rustling of the leaves
In their verdant canopies.

The well-loved paths
Fringed with emerald grass;
The spring-born butterflies
Delicately flitting past.

That one beloved companion
Who matches steps with mine,
Our hearts and minds in harmony
In this precious time.

This surely is my heaven
My earthly paradise,
Where Nature gently embraces me
And I kiss her with my eyes.

OPINION| OUR BLOOD-LETTING BLASPHEMY LAWS

We are such a plagued nation, full of dichotomies and hypocrisies. Respectability, patience and civility have forsaken our national psyche a long, long time ago.

And so we blunder and bluster and we barge ahead with nothing to show for our high-handedness but a spiritually depleted image of the crescent moon and star … It is heartbreaking to think this is the best we can be.

The very essence of our religion continues to be hijacked by those that want to keep pulling us into the dark ages. In the midst of all the inane interpretation and bizarre commentaries around the tenets of our religion, we have gone from one abysmal depth to the next. Each “moral incidence” so much more ludicrous than the last, that we have as a nation quite absolutely forgotten real empathy, intelligence and our sense of community. We have forgotten what it means to be a part of a religion that is innately compassionate, tolerant and peaceful. Case in point: our freakish position and regulation around Blasphemy. A colonial construct, it never existed in its current form and fury in the predominantly Muslim ruled subcontinent before the nineteenth century. And then, it was signed into law to ensure that the differences between the 2 major religions were highlighted rather than the similarities which had bound them into a relatively homogenous society before then. That served to keep the two communities divided and separate which suited our occupiers in their machiavellian Game of Thrones.

Since then and more than in any other Muslim country, the Blasphemy Law has become a chip on our collective Pakistani shoulders that we love to invoke when we want to remind ourselves of who’s the boss. What we fail to take into account is that in a country that is 97% Muslim, we are overhwlemingly The Boss. Our religion is not under threat; we are not a minority trying to keep our vulnerable communities safe. We are the ones in control and therefore the ones obligated to show compassion and forebearance. Instead, we have as a society and a State created a monster in the name of religion.

The truth of the matter is that Islam has not laid down any set definition or punishment for Blasphemy. (Remember… Islam started out as a compassionate, progressive and tolerant religion). As such there are as many interpretations of the word and the laws governing it as there are scholars and Muslim countries. And yet, we in Pakistan have ensured that we make the ultimate brutal joke of the concept, punishing only those who are the least capable of defending themselves – the poor and the minorities. Our short history is rife with shamefully copious examples.

There is much to be done on the socio-religious fronts in our besieged country to render our communities more humane and inclusive. There is also ample opportunity to mend our policies where they are the most cruel and unusual; and our Blasphemy Laws are as good a place as any to start.

Teach not through words and angered passion, but by your own peaceful example
Featured

VERSE| THE WOODEN BENCH

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.

OPINION| ANOTHER TIK IN THE WALL

Of TikTok, Murderous cans of soup and Global culture

So it was on another fun afternoon when CNN was more than just a news network; when it was my go-to for happy bouts of comic relief and when truth and reality really were unceasingly stranger than fiction. Those were the entertaining Trump years. On one such occasion, when I was already giggling inside at the orator that Donald Trump was NOT, there was another little gem of drollery that CNN displayed on the screen. The very witty, very funny attempt by some teens to give satirical life to one of the POTUS’ many gaffes: a little video of Donald Trump (DT) waxing (in)eloquently about forests not being swept often enough and water running up trees leading to the devastating California forest fires; and tins of soup being used as deadly ammunition in street riots. That video so tickled my fancy that I downloaded the application they call TikTok and proceeded to watch the clip another 3 times over. It was hilarious.

And that’s how and when I discovered the ADHD*-propelled world of miniature videos and the nuanced beginnings of a global culture if you will. I was swept into this world of ready made verbal/ musical/ physical/ atmospheric plot twists and outlines that were being fleshed at lightning speed by adolescents around the world. Each video a tiny but permanent testament to a specific geography, mindset, anatomy and talent; all brought together in brand new visions and perspectives. I was fascinated.

We, the Generation X or Baby Busters, came of age when the home computer was just starting to become a must-have in households; to not own one was perfectly normal too right into the late 90s. And so our entertainment spectrum of the pixelated variety was limited to Polaroid cameras, Nintendo games and clunky, weighty video cameras. We as adosclecents existed in our own little geo-cultural cocoons, only ever experiencing a different social reality when we physically visited a new place. It was tedious in terms of globalising trends, preferences, news and views. But like every one says, those were “the good old days”. Or so we like to believe; ignorance is bliss and we were all unsuspectingly sitting around in our own little worlds created as they were by whoever at that time, held the proverbial Hammer of Thor. The instant global reach of social media has changed all of that. Mostly for the better, some for the worse.

But coming back to TikTok, ever the analyst, I began to notice underlying nuances, messages if you will. Emotional, spiritual, passive- aggressive, outright aggressive, titillating, righteous, prying, flaunting, caring, daring video communiques from youngsters around the world. I realized that the platform is used predominantly as a psychological sounding board. A listening, seeing, understanding online therapist and friend that is always present. And while she’ll let you know what her overwhelming opinion is (the eminent right/centre/ left trend of the moment on any issue) she will also embrace your view of the world and add it lovingly into her electronic cache, memorializing it forever.

Our current world, beset as it is with microbial creatures and subversive political intrigue, has found many ways to engage and come together despite the plethora of man made boundaries. And it is our children that have broken through those factions, castes and creeds to seed a new online Statelessness if you will; a fuzziness of borders and a blurring of traditional ideals. When you filter out the chaff, these 10 second videos are a potent view into the minds and hearts of the next generation. They are a triumphant, liberated, unsadulterard psychoanalysis of the key drivers of our youth. The more evolved state administrators could learn a thing or 10 on how to better cater to our rapidly changing, information-teeming, truth-seeking world.

The detractors of these youth driven social media platforms may have some valid reasons but those should be used to understand the psychology of our children and to teach and guide them, rather than as tools to punish, demean and ban access altogether. The bull headed approach goes against everything that will help to nurture them as upright, productive, informed adults who will, in the not so distant future, be leading the nation-building charge in an ever challenging global backdrop. Also, when all’s said and done, it is as futile to censor something of this magnitude and reach as it is to stop the waves of the ocean from cresting and falling. Case in point: Pakistan banned YouTube for over 4 years from 2008 to 2012 because of a few “unislamic objectionable videos”. (Our dubiously qualified Information Minister wasn’t aware of the fact that the specific offensive videos/ channels could be banned so he went all out). But that didn’t stop illicit VPNs* from mushrooming to circumvent the ban. The tide of information flows on, one way or another, regardless.

And so, I am now a TikTok user of the spectator variety. I watch, glean, laugh, reflect, pause and triumph in the lives that have been put grandly, intrepidly, cathartically on display. And I salute the movers and shakers of these tiny glimpses into the heart and soul of our future; and for putting a little more quintessence into John Lennon’s eternal words:

IMAGINE there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace,

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one
The killer instinct of soup!
Watch the Forest Fires video via the attached link: 
https://vm.tiktok.com/ZSJhk5J1h/

*Title inspiration from Pink Floyd’s song “Another Brick in the Wall”

*ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active.

*VPN: A Virtual Private Network gives online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection. VPNs mask your internet protocol (IP) address so your online actions are virtually untraceable.

VERSE| SOLITUDE

I wrote this old world ditty when I was around 16 years old.  Introverted and a lover of words, this was a fitting tribute to my world then.
The funny thing is that of the little poetry I wrote as a teenager, this is the only piece I remember by heart. The rest I have committed to a well worn, dog eared diary which once I get home to Karachi, I will also reproduce here. If nothing else, I (and anyone else who feels intrepid and fancifully armed!) can reflect on my eccentric adolescent mind when re-reading the mostly quirky, sometimes pained, sometimes euphoric pieces that I wrote.
O Solitude, thou art to me
A silent, wholesome company.
When of the world of beings I tire,
To thee for solace I retire.

Each moment that I spend with thee
In thy wholesome company
Retrieves for me my peace of mind
Worries and cares are left behind.

And the world itself begins to seeem
A place where is upheld one’s own regime;
And the heart is filled with serenity
In thy wholesome company.

FEATURE|CHILDREN OF THE WEATHER GODS*

This piece is inspired by the dramatic elements of surprise that are innate to tropical weather. An ethereal tribute to Sri Lanka.
Title inspiration from Mark Medoff’s 1979 play titled “Children of a Lesser God”. Screen-adapted in 1986 by the same title.
Indra: Hindu storm god
Yu Shi: Chinese rain god
Zeus: Greek storm god

Calandra: Greek goddess of rain
Olympus: Abode of the gods and site of the throne of Zeus
Having lived in the golden arms of a tropical island in the Indian Ocean for over 5 years now, I have had ample opportunity to experience its whimsical flirtations with the weather gods.  From a spirited lightsaber play with Indra*, to a blitheful dance in the rain with Yu Shi* to a gladiatorial display of stormy rage and thunder with Zeus*, the tear drop island of Sri Lanka has perfected a celestial theatre all its own.  The spectators, all its creature denizens, are left sometimes daunted, sometimes dazzled but mostly awed.

Here’s my attempt at describing a not so unusual day in the equatorial climes of Serendib.

Act 1 - Scene 1:
I wake up to a pale amber light filling the space above the curtain rails in my bedroom. The usually glad-eyed sun is in a somber mood today as I draw back the drapes on an overcast day. I can feel the fickle aura of the atmosphere seep into my bones and I know it’s going to be one of those weather-wise dramatic days. I arm myself with an umbrella as I step out into the late morning torpor. For while the heavens prepare to unleash their elemental surprises for the day, the moisture laden warmth of the tropics continues to caress all and sundry with sticky-wet fingers.
The clouds continue to gather in thick-bodied eskers along the horizon while the sky above shifts between a myriad shades of grey. The trees sway to the side favoured by the wind, rustling prophetically of things to come. Then suddenly they are still, silent.
A storm is brewing.

Act 1 - Scene 2:
As far away as the rain bearing clouds appeared 20 minutes ago, they have magically, mysteriously traversed the curvature of our atmosphere and are now directly overhead. The grey of the sky becomes opaque like thick wedges of granite. Even though you’ve witnessed this drum roll of a scene a million times, it stops you in your tracks, makes you look up, sends the smallest of cold shivers down your spine. If you’re indoors, you look on from the safety of your enclosed space. If you’re in your car, you hurry home; if you’re walking, you quicken your steps to the nearest shelter.
And then the weather gods begin their ethereal orchestra as big fat drops of rain begin to pelt the earth in an opening prelude.

Act 1 - Scene 3:
Lightning forks through the sky in an ever widening mesh across the city, its jagged ends tearing into the clouds overhead. Jeering, threatening, laughing Thunder strides along with its booming megaphone. The stuporously falling rain has now transformed into sinewy sheets that cut diagonally into the stinging, singing earth. The usually bustling streets are almost empty; when the gods are at play, the mortals look on from safe distances. Maternal Calandra* cloaks the city in a gentle haze, blurring out the most riotous parts of the explosive crescendo.
And the rain continues to come down.

Act 2 - Scene 1:
The glistening leaves on the rain-washed trees rustle in the evening breeze, shaking off their watery burdens drop by drop. The Earth rises from her lotus position, stretching out her arms, a sweet petrichor exuding from every pore. Flying, crawling, creeping creatures poke out wary heads, blinking at their shimmering world. The more intrepid venture out for a last meal before their day is finally done. Fledglings raise a stridently petulant clamour, instinctively aware that the beast has moved on and their world is once more safe and bounteous.
People hurry on with their lives, still guarded, still weather-anxious but impelled by that unceasing urge to get up and go on.
There is a final roll of distant thunder as Zeus laughs one last time.
The clouds clear and a rosy orange sunset appears on the horizon as the rest of the deific thespians head back to Olympus*, their cosmic romping done for the day.

Act 2 - Carpe Momentum:
The late evening breeze is cool and crisp as it darts nimbly into gardens and homes, nipping gently at sun-browned skin. The sky is clearer, brighter as Orion and Taurus blink in nocturnal wakefulness. The smaller creatures are abed, while the bigger ones slow down in the gentle luminescence of a clear, fragrant night.
Tomorrow will be another day with its own atmospheric act and aura, for that is the way of the lusty tropics. And the children of the weather gods will awaken to a new day, fresh beginnings and another chance to get it right.

OPINION | We, the Women of Pakistan

And so it was on another quite uneventful day that the PM of our besieged nation finally put in his two bits to exacerbate our social dilemma just a little more. The tenuous progress that we had made, all things considered (the “Aurat” [Women’s] March, the now audible Moderate social segment lobbying for change, the little everyday triumphs of the Pakistani woman) were pushed right out the window with a single damning sentence. With one unthinking response, Imran Khan gave license to 120 million of the nation’s denizens to judge, demean and assault the other 120 million based on nothing more than macho whims and fancies.

Still, I’m sincerely hoping it was a primal knee jerk reaction not entirely thought through (our patriarchy is copiously given to that). The alternative would mean that he’s been well and truly conditioned by the right wing brigade outside of his home; and by the crystal balls of a soothsaying spouse inside.

If I put aside all emotions and outrage (and believe me, that takes some doing in this case) and analyse it for what it is, it still comes across as grossly irresponsible coming from a Head of Government. More so, because so many of us who believe in a better, more progressive, more prosperous Pakistan have consistently jumped to his defense over the past not entirely scintillating 3 years. When his naysayers condemned him; when his detractors demonised him; when other global leaders criticized him, there was a bulwark of us who stood by him, defended him and made excuses for him. After all, he was a newbie in politics and he had the right to make his share of mistakes in matters of governance and international diplomacy.

But this…. this has really been heart breaking. Disappointing. Infuriating. Like the tragic submersion of the last lifeboat on a sinking ship. One would think that for someone who’s been married 3 times, who consistently exercised his right to seek the most optimal mate for himself; one who obviously appreciated a woman who knew her mind, was aware of her rights and who lived by those credos, would be more sensitive to the adversities that the average woman suffers in Pakistan. Whether it is exercising her right to education, to working, to her freedom, to her basic safety, to making every effort to be the fullest and best version of herself. Instead, Imran Khan behaved like the archetypal patriarchal male who’s been caught with his shalwar down and has to somehow deflect the blame elsewhere.

The truth is, there is still no one else out there to honestly attend to the matters of the State. Here the qualifying word is Honesty. In our nation mired as it is in subversive political antics and corruption; where every preceding head of State has somehow managed to defraud, snatch and steal from the ever suffering public, IK was an honest to goodness breath of fresh air. We the women have, through the unceasing trials and tribulations perpetrated by the men in and around our circles of life, learnt a wisdom that has also been our survival tactic: to look at the larger picture, put aside even monumental grudges and march on. That’s what makes us formidable but also vulnerable. So while we march on Mr.PM, we also look to you to do your duty: Apologize publicly to the 120 million women of the country that you’re leading. Not because we would wither away without those words of redress, but because we want to continue to feel relatively safe in the land we call home.

I raise up my voice—not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. … We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.
Malala Yousafzai

OPINION| THE STATE OF THE (DIS)UNION

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.

One good conversation can shift the direction of change forever – Linda Lam

**Quote from McMillan and Chavis (1986) “Sense of Community”

OPINION|Love in the Time of the Mullah**

Recently there was a simple, endearing display of affection between a couple that had just decided to spend the rest of their lives together. The proposal was made on the University of Lahore campus amidst their friends and was followed by an affectionate hug between the couple. That embrace was so demonised by the vocal right, that it now hangs like the sword of democles over the heads of the hapless couple*. A hug! Their fault was that they behaved normally in a sweet moment of joy, rather than in the unnatural constipated manner that is de rigeur and “decent” for all happy occasions involving a man and a woman. Most of the social media comments about the incident have left me not only stunned but also depressed. They well and truly show up the ugly patriarchal underbelly of our besieged society.

From celebrating birthdays to personal successes to proposals, the way of the pious right around their other halves in public is to behave with no more feeling than a vacuum cleaner. (Or a toaster if your tech knee jerk brings visions of food to mind rather than a sparkling floor!)

When did we become so hypocritical, intolerant and judgmental? It could have been during the focused militant Islamization of the country in the wake of the American proxy war with Soviet Russia. Or, it could have been the critical tipping points where socio religious decisions that could have laid the blueprints for a more equitable, inclusive and psychologically healthy society, were made instead to appease the extremist fringe which has always had the loudest megaphones. And so now in 2021, while the rest of the world is debating AI* ethics, we still consider half our human population as circumstantial, where laws and rights blur into oblivion: if you happen to inherit the Y chromosome, every opportunity opens up to you; but if you land up with the double (h)ex, you’re left to the mercy of male egos, testosterone-fuelled whims and religious fillibusters. Indeed, it is this gross distortion in how the State views each gender that has led to this stunning breakdown of social normalcy.

This dismal failing on the part of our legislative bodies and our religious leadership has also led to what can only be described as a collective national psychosis. Women and men alike are exhibiting bizarre mental derangement, with one imagining the world revolves around him and the other, that the world does indeed revolve around him. Oh, and she helps to spin it.

So detrimental to our social structures and mental and emotional wellness is this state of affairs that as with any imbalance in nature be it physical or emotional, there are ultimately equalizing and opposing forces to repair the equilibrium (bless Newton!). And so, in the case of our Islamic republic, despite being the alleged custodians of orthodoxy and conservatism, we also have the dubious recognition of being one of the top porn searching/ watching countries in the world. (There are some Western and African countries that surpass our national porn viewership but they don’t profess to be Islamic, Christian or Jewish Republics. They are secular states and largely follow the philosophy of “live and let live” that we combatively decry). Does Islam consider this kind of sexual titillation a cardinal sin? Yes absolutely. Is that a deterrent? Never, in spite of all the impassioned denials. Can we sit back and morally judge this fall from grace? No; since it is, in big part, the attempt of our human psyche to compensate for the abnormal lack of everyday warmth and emotional fulfilment in even normal, legally contracted relationships.

Relegating all kinds of affection behind closed doors also paints the most innocent gestures of love and care with the brush of indecency and impropriety. Children in our society never see their parents sharing a quick hug or a kiss on the cheek in public; and because they don’t see that affection, they never learn to associate it with the simple fact of being human, being a family and being connected. And so we’re assiduously spawning generations that are increasingly intolerant, embarrassed and offended by any overt show of warmth, affection and joy.

I recall a couple of episodes from my own corporate life where I was also a member of the Committee on Ethical Conduct. The committee, expected to dispense disciplinary action, was shown CCTV footage of young boys and girls, fresh entrants into the corporate fold, caught in compromising situations in little-used ATM kiosks. These hijab-wearing young women and bearded young men were probably from stiflingly conservative households. Having had no outlet for even normal social interactions with the opposite sex while growing up, and later, outside of work, led them to commit unthinking acts of pent up frustration. These were not “bad” men and women. They were the unfortunate products of our small minded, aberrant approach to inter-gender community, accessibility and interaction.

Until we stop claiming the moral high ground with nothing dazzling to show for it; until we stop judging and look beyond ourselves at some of the progressive ways of the rest of humankind that is almost 8 billion strong; until we stop associating rigidity and patriarchy with the essence of Islam, we will continue to erode the very humanity from our societies. We will continue to devolve until there is nothing left but the detritus of hate, bigotry and dogmatism.

The violent invective and demeaning actions we reserve for any kind of openness have to stop. The egos have to be reined in. We as a nation and as an Islamic community need to unlearn the intolerance and hypocrisy around love, and relearn how to feel comfortable with expressions of basic warmth and affection. There has to be more to us than unkempt beards, holy wars and houri* birthrights.

It’s time we found and focused on other, more positive legacies of our rich Islamic heritage.

** Title inspiration and adaptation from the 1985 Gabriel G. Marquez novel titled “Love in the time of Cholera”
* Read the original News story here: https://ara.tv/g558y
* AI: Artifical Intelligence

*Houri: a beautiful young woman, especially one of the virgin companions of the faithful in the Muslim Paradise.

VERSE| A Conversation with the Universe

I ask you if you’re Happy
You say that you ALMOST are ...
But for that deal still stuck in the pipeline;
The car you’ve had your eye on;
Of someday getting into the privileged fold
With a house in a gated neighbourhood.

I ask you if you’re Hopeful
You say that you ALMOST are ...
But for the country’s socio-economic situation;
The children’s future; their education;
And, oh your eternally dismal luck!
Your lottery ticket is always a dud.

I ask you if you’re at Peace
You say that you ALMOST are ...
But for the fear of contracting a dire disease;
Of neighboring countries planning a seige;
And that infernal noisy discord!
from the red duplex across the road.

I ask you if you’re Alive
You say that of course you are!
You’re breathing, you’re living;
You’re thinking, you’re worrying;
you’re working, you’re hurrying;
You’re planning and hedging
Against what might be coming...

Stop! Breathe .... Listen ....

Open up your mind and your heart;
Cast off the spell of your self-doubting trance;
Quit just living, and come gloriously ALIVE!
Be happy and be hopeful even as you strive;
Face the sun, take control of this time, seize the day,
The magic is NOW, not in your ‘morrows or yesterdays.

VERSE| AN ODE TO LITTLE JOYS

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.

VERSE| I AM ALRIGHT

You ask me if I’m alright ...
I am alright, but the stabbing ache in my heart is not alright.

You ask me if I’m ok ...
I am ok, but the stranglehold of despair around my throat is not ok

You ask me if I’m fine ...
I am fine, but the icy grip of fear in my soul is not fine.

I need to remove the steely shards from my heart, one piercing sliver at a time;
Even if a hole, an abysmal gorge remains, I can learn to fill it with other things, better things.

I need to loosen the malevolent grip of hopelessness, one hoary, gnarled finger at a time;
And learn to open myself up to the comfort of a quiet, gentle embrace.

I need to thaw the icicles of dread, one knifelike lance at a time;
and learn to warm my soul with the simple heat of being alive.

I know that I need to learn to separate my angst from my being; learn to put the wretchedness to bed
So that every so often, I am able to feel whole, happy and free.

And so my friend, when you ask me if I am well
I say I am well, because I’m learning to take care of the most fragile parts of myself.

I will be alright; I will be fine; I will be ok