VERSE | THE KNOCK KNOCK JOKE WITH A MENTAL TWIST

Written amidst the mind-numbing perils of never ending curfew lockdowns. Read at your own mental risk 🤓

Tak taka tak - Tak Tak
Kaun hai bhai bata ab tak

CHINA!

CHAI NA girana babu
Bari tarpay tarpay tarpay
Meri leg not so halkay halkay

Knock knockity! Knock Knock
Who’s there, before I click back the lock

ZEBRA!

ZE BRA in France is black or white
Practical and just hugging one right
And if you feel the added zeal
Add some colour, like lilac and teal.

Tap ti tap tap - Tap Tap
Who is it? That was a fine rap

LIZARD!

LIZ ‘EARD you call her “mighty stout”
You really put your foot in your mouth!
She may be big but she’s got style
She’ll make you eat your words for a mile

Ding da ding ding- Ding Dong
Who is it? Come sing us a song

RHINO! O-O! O…OOOO!

Mr. RAI, NO we will not do this
Mrs Rai yes it’s all the craze
Rainbow coloured hair for you
And I will go for baby blue

Clap de clap clap - Clap Clap
Who goes there? Who gives my door a thwack?

‘Tis me MAYNA!

MAY NA bhoolonga
MAIN NA bhoolongi
My nemesis is bharta de cauliflower
And mine is garbanzo beans!

Open the door for salvation
Open the door for your soul
Who … who’s there?
‘Tis me your moral sense,
Call me your conscience
No punning, rhyming words here
No weighty equations.
Just you and me and clarity
That’s been lost too long at sea

I’m deaf! I’m deaf! I can’t hear you
Ps. I’ve not seen any clarinet either! (Hehe!)
So the door stays closed, barred and locked
Not opening any windows neither!
Go elsewhere, go where you can be heard
The (h)earless are quite rampant here
Don’t come knockity knocking upon my door
Amd I’ll pretend as if you were never here - dear!

Conscience! Right! Where’s the pun in that!

VERSE | CORONA NON GRATA

Lockdowns, inbound, not allowed to go out.
While Queen Corona, that prima donna gaily traipses all about.
She’s making sure we don’t forget
Her microscopic savageness!
So she merrily mutates every 60 days
In Vietnam, Brazil, India and the UK.
I do despise her with a passion so!
That dung of Newt; that Toady’s toe!

I tried to see the cosmic grace;
Nature’s reckoning, her showing us our place;
Cloaked in all her viral majesty,
Bequeathing wisdom in all this travesty …
But enough already! How much more
Do you want us humans to buckle down and endure?
You know we’re as stubborn as the proverbial asses
No amount of beating will turn us into planet-loving masses!

So begone! Away with you, Ye vile Covid,
Get out of our systems - Scat! Move it!
Two years is enough of a pandemic battle;
Go away! Depart with your deathly rattle.
Even Nature is kind after tap-tapping her cane;
You’ve ravaged our bodies; now you’re driving us insane.
Seclusion, Solitude, I’m so done with these Ice Maidens
Give me a cafe, a bar and a mall that is laden
With throngs of happy and virus-free crowds
Chattering, nattering and walking about!

This ode is for you as an un-fond farewell
Please go to Mars; I hear its volcanoes are swell!

FEATURE|THE ENIGMA OF LEISURE TRAVEL IN 2021

When I thought of travel 5 years ago, images of copious, laborious intercity bank visits always came to mind. Job related travels to metropolises, townships and little rural outposts were the sum total of all my hours logged on the road.

Then I embarked on my sabbatical and the whole meaning of the word Travel changed for me. It embodied everything from a leisure trip to Europe or the Middle East, to amiable walks along my own city’s tree-lined, sun dappled walkways. My journeys, big and small, slowly but surely morphed into trips of not only the body but the mind and the soul too as I roamed around and smelled the gardenias, the araliya and the roses. The mind-numbing fumes of business travel were a distant memory in my newly acquired state of finally being free enough to follow my own heart rather than the terse instructions on my work day scheduler. And so it came to pass, that yours truly went from being a reluctant traveller at best, to feeling a rush of endorphins at the very idea of a trip away from the (not entirely unloved!) sweltering bustle of the city. I had become the quintessential Leisure Traveller and I basked in the glorious serendipity of the role.

I also came to realise that Leisure Travel does not have to be limited to trips taken during time away from work. The astute traveller with a love of roaming, can quite successfully combine business and leisure travel with some strategic pre-planning.

-Do a little homework on your destination.  If you’re visiting the place for the first time, it’s always a good idea to take in the top 3-5 tourist attractions.  Take a guided tour for the maximum bang for the buck.  If you’re the intrepid, adventurous type, pick a couple of the places that interest you the most and go it alone.  Some pre-planning on the most optimal modes of transport will be helpful to ensure you don’t find yourself woefully light of pocket post your very first taxi ride.  

-Consult your hotel/ motel concierge. These personages are surprisingly wonderful founts of knowledge on the best, most budget-friendly local sights, sounds and tastes. I have visited some of the nicest little local hot spots and had some of the choicest local cuisine at the behest of their friendly bidding!

-Come prepared with sturdy walking shoes (preferably waterproof), a lightweight umbrella and a light jacket. Whether you’re in the sultry tropics or the cool alpine heights, you’ll be prepared for that unexpected monsoon or seasonal shower.

-Carry a basic medical kit with bandaids, pain killers, anti allergies, mosquito repellant and oral rehydration salts (foreign cuisine can be dicey!)

So what does Leisure Travel look like in 2021?

In our current lives, buffeted as they are with uncertainty on so many fronts, I would define leisure travel as any trip that allows you to relax and/ or rejoice; to realign body, mind and soul to attain some semblance of inner peace and quiet. Whether it takes a solitary retreat in the middle of a forest, or a full moon party at a crowded beach, the purpose of leisure travel is to rejuvenate the traveller. To revitalise the trip-maker to get back into the fray of life, feeling less burdened and more prepared to take each day as it comes.

Given the pandemic and the far reaching limits on travel generally, leisure trips need to become increasingly more creative and out of the box. After a year of enduring pandemic-fuelled lockdowns and curfews, people are more than ready to get away from it all.

Leisure travel can be as simple as a day trip to a spa or a hotel a little way away from home. Little bubbles of rest and relaxation that allow one to get away from the milieu of every day life while also keeping within pandemic defined geographies.

Another increasingly popular avenue of holidaying is to rent a bungalow or a villa somewhere. This is a fortuitous remedy for larger families allowing for both, a change of scenery as well as ensuring pandemic health protocols are observed. There are no busy hotel lobbies or crowded pools or overflowing dining areas to contend with. It’s a pandemic leisure traveller’s dream come true; a kind of “home away from home” holiday.

For the intrepid travellers with dogged wanderlust, there are still places around the world where life goes on undisrupted. With the addition of certain basic health obligations like a negative PCR test, wearing masks in all public places and observing state postulated social distancing rules, these places continue to welcome visitors and indeed have much to offer in the way of travel experience. Some tropical destinations fall into this sphere of venturesome travel.

I, in the meantime, vaccinated and boosted, am content with traveling to my neighbourhood cafe and escaping into the world of abundant imagination across vast spaces through the keys of my iPad. And for the occasional temerarious shock to the system, I and my partner in all crimes of high adventure, pack our overnighters and get away to a nearby beachy or green locale, all the while basking in the simple pleasure of the journey itself.

Leisure travel during the pandemic really is akin to living by the compass and not by the clock, as we tend to our bodies and our spirits in the overwhelming tenuousness of our current lives.

POLITICAL FARCE|Gone With the ‘Tind’*

The “Brown Sahib” Aspirations of the 45th POTUS

Until very recently, i thought that the Brown Sahib* state of mind was the social cross borne by certain privileged demographics of the previously colonised and the enslaved. After 500 years of seeing the White Man do his thing, while ruling and owning large swathes of humanity, even the most tenaciously dogmatic among the brown and the black populations learnt to emulate their white coercers to survive, and in fact thrive. Over the ages, this brand of social exposure to both, the colonially enforced ways of the West and the doggedly defiant cultural elements of the East produced a quite unique post colonial urbanity, exclusive to the 1.5 billion indigenous people of the Indian subcontinent.

But turns out, mindsets are fickle things in our current bizarre, beleaguered world. The character and cultural traits that have been the sole tokens of the Brown Man for the past few hundred years, are now raising their sun-kissed heads in the pale white hearts of the colonists and the enslavers. Or at least one. And so, we bear bemused witness to an almost karmically apologetic social course correction, as the 45th POTUS (once the most powerful man on earth – makes the mind reel!) decided to make unwitting amends for his colonial predecessors, through personal example.

The Foreign Bahu*: If you’re a progressive and privileged brown person, you’ll do your Western Hemisphere stint and come back home, armed with not only a foreign degree but possibly a foreign wife too (Caucasian of course). Mixed race children, we believe, are known to better the family prospects in an ethnically and racially divided world. And so, if we give him the benefit of the doubt, the 45th POTUS married an Eastern European woman to even out the playing field for the rest of the world to aspire to greatness by association. And if we go with just our good old gut instinct on this POTUS, because eastern exoticism is a thing.

Misogynistic Ambitions: If you’re a Brown Man anywhere, you’ve been raised to believe that you’re the centre of everyone’s world, especially all the women that wittingly and unwittingly occupy your universe. The gruellingly paternalistic environment (from archaic Panchayat* codes to the gender despotism inherent in the Hudood Ordinance*) has been carefully maintained to consistently fuel that ego. And so, marvelling at the subcontinental man for knowing and showing what a tremendously huge gift from God he is, the 45th POTUS has frequently and passionately tried to “put women in their place”. From sexual misconduct to name calling, he continues to frenziedly negotiate his way through all his political and social interactions with the opposite gender.

Brown skin complex: 500 years of the White Man’s dominion has understandably wrought some social psychosis in its wake. One among them is the Brown man’s continued, thriving quest for white skin – literally. It may have started off as “if you can’t beat them, join them”, but over the ages, this ardour has taken on a life of its own. From the multibillion dollar fairness cream industry, to the “fair bahu*” syndrome, a laundry list of overt and covert skin colour stigmas has taken root and spread like gnarled old ivy over our social fabric. And so, the 45th POTUS, since he can’t get any paler, and deciding that racial irony is the best form of praise, has embodied a bullheaded brownness that is both unprecedented and scary. The resultant orangeness in fact, rivals a fiery tropical sunset during a duststorm.

Hirsute Motivations: We are a race that is (mostly!) endowed with and proud of an abundance of dark luxurious hair. So when we do experience a dearth in the follicular territory, we jump right on to the bandwagon of toupees, transplants and wigs. The resulting downiness ranges from the barely perceptible, all the way to the absurd and the ridiculous. And so the 45th POTUS has with all his heart, embraced the Brown Man’s tenacious hair love affair, and taken it into realms of comb-over inventiveness that no modern day tempest can rip asunder!

Despotic Tendencies: The urge and capacity to rule with an iron hand has traditionally been the way of the South, Central, Pacific and Middle Eastern blocs; with many countries having the dubious honour of martial law as state administration for more than half their independent existence. It is not so great a secret and opinion, that the Eastern and Southern hemispheres just do better with a hybrid democracy/ autocracy approach. And so the 45th POTUS, in his most outstanding tribute to the Brown and Black Man yet, established a unique First World dictatorship that set new global despotic standards. Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and even Kim Jong-un seem lumbering and lethargic in the wake of the autocratic inclinations and machinations of the Trumpian zeal.

To the (predominantly white) American populace at large we say a big Thank you for this peculiar apology in the shape of Donald J. Trump, for all the centuries of Black and Brown skinned subjugation. For providing so much comic relief when the world needed it most. For mortally endangering your nationhood and your political and economic progress built over hundreds of years. For racing, like sporting martyrs, to relinquish your identity as the leaders of the Free World.

But even we, the historically conquered and crushed, feel it’s a bit much. So please feel free to abandon any more such zealous, self defeating presidential level attempts at reparation. We will be happy with anyone sane, reasonable, half way eloquent and racially colour blind. Scratch the last; even the most delusional of us know that’s a big ask.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Brown Sahib: a colloquialism meaning brown master in the nature of his white predecessor. Now used farcically to define people from the subcontinent who behave like white people trapped in brown bodies.

*A wordplay on the 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell, set amidst the American civil war and reconstruction period, entitled “Gone with the Wind”. (Screen-adapted in 1939).

*Tind: Punjabi/ Urdu colloquialism for ‘noggin’ or head or baldness.

*Bahu: Urdu/ Hindi for Bride.

*Panchayat: A village council of elders

*Hudood Ordinance: Gender-biased laws enacted in Pakistan in 1979 by the military ruler, General Zia ul Haq as part of an overall Islamization process. This was done, with American support as a part of a larger focused Islamic militarisation strategy to help fight the USA’s proxy war against Russia.

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.

SHORT STORY|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 persuadable to breaking with the weighty bonds of age old tradition for the spousal 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. 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 apex.

Yet…. there was something she wasn’t quite sure of; and the burnish of vestigial royalty had a bit of a tarnished quality to it too…. She shook her head decidedly, repelling all these unpropitious notions. She was in fact, expecting to blithely deflect these very same protestations 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 face, reaching her eyes and making her skin 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 through succinct, gentle, repeated statements 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. Farzana’s reunion with her absconding maid 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 out-do the other. Now, she was going to be alone; and her past liaisons suddenly flitted before her like stark, monumental failures.

“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 tend to when the heart is caught in purgatorial limbo, and she frowned slightly. She suddenly felt an onrush of unkind 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 flair 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|Positivum Cogitandi*

I have waxed eloquent as far as Pandemic Diaries go, on the thrills and the gloom of being “benignly incarcerated”. This piece will dive into the nuts and bolts of the experience as I try and capture a typical curfew-bound day in the tropical environs of the Colombo lockdown.

It all starts at around 9.30am as I have yet again (quite happily) switched my circadian clock to the later morning hours. Less hours to stew a Lockdown Potpie in, being the resounding sanity preserving logic! The regimen that follows is fundamental to helping keep it all together through the interminable weeks upon weeks of government and self imposed confinement.

I make my bed, with the assiduity of a 7-star hotel housekeeping staff. Fitted sheet pulled until the 800 thread-counts crackle at their seams. The duvet laid out just so, followed by the bed cover. I then wash and change into my day-time lounge wear which is different from my nightwear only because I wear it during the day really! It’s the doggedness of routine that is paramount here. I’m still passing the Lipstick Test* as i put on my tinted chapstick and my eyeliner. Thus fortified with the elixir of my morning regimen, I sally forth from my bedroom.

The electric kettle is filled and switched on, almost immediately permeating the kitchen with its hypnotising “double double, toil and trouble” caffeine chant. I busy myself with cutting up a whole host of greens….and reds and yellows as I pull together a big salad. The chopping and the dicing and the slicing are profoundly cathartic, as pent up frustration at Time sliding by in the unchanging surroundings of a limited space…yes, ok, home… is released with every deliberate lancing exploit. The ensuing digital fatigue (of the fingers!) is the sweet pain of yet another daily protocol dutifully delivered.

Then it’s my first mug of coffee in hand and an hour of watching the Pandemic and a host of other bad news unfold on the CNN and the BBC. It’s always bad news or sad news or disturbing news. For good news, people (and I’m thinking, the rest of the animal world too in fact) have learnt to rely on themselves – much better for preserving sanity, dubious and relative as that is too nowadays.

The hunger pangs hit around 1pm. The once rather vague attention to “where’s the next meal coming from”, has during the course of the curfew, morphed into an armageddon-level phobia: I must have a view of where my next 3 meals are coming from or my dreams are suffused with so much biryani and spaghetti bolognaise that i wake up with a heartburn. Mind over matter at disturbing play here….

So while I’m whipping up some Fixed breakfast-component toast with the Variable accompaniment of last night’s leftovers or eggs, I’m also feverishly contemplating the contents of my main meal of the day which is dinner. I have been insidiously photographed by a near and dear one while thus occupied, and i can best sum it up as “there’s a pleasure in being mad which none but madmen (and desperate sustenance seekers) know”! I’m happy to add though, that since the food delivery services have resumed feeding the hordes of the Urban Ravenous, the feelings of deprivation disquietude and lunatic anticipation have much abated.

I am also one of the more fortunate who can, of a torrid locked-down evening, indulge in (suffer through?!) heart-healthy aerobic workouts. The sizeable parking lots of apartment buildings are very effectively doubling as walking tracks for their home-bound residents. And come heat or humidity, or even torrential tropical downpours, my brisk evening walk is another regular ritual that has helped to keep the mental nuts and bolts peacefully in their places.

Even so, the healthful mental effects of a regimen built largely around a 3-room space can last only so long. And some days when the painstakingly cultivated mental tranquility is shattered by the lock-rattling of the inner social beasts that we all still are, I quell the mad urge to scream, rant and even bawl by initiating yet another healthful ritual: I set myself up to write. The iPad is set up, the TV is put on mute and almost instantaneously, the mind collects itself as I immerse myself in the next best thing to a companionable walk at the racecourse/ a trip to the spa/ a belly laugh over a drink/ or just a warm reminiscence over a latte. The world slows down and the frustration fades as the words spill out like a cathartic mist over another clean page. And in that endeavour is also the promise of a new day.

Positivum Cogitandi; Tabula Rasa.

De Khudai pe aman

*Positivum Cogitandi: Positive Thinking

*Tablua Rasa: clean slate

*Lipstick Test: a psychological/ mental wellbeing gauge

*Pandesday: any day in the course of the novel Corona pandemic

OPINION|The Goodliness of Godliness

The Covid “Whys and Wherefores”

I, like 70% of the planet’s human population, have been sitting in the now very, very, very familiar environs of my home for the past 6 weeks. Please note that the last very is purely a function of the extreme intimacy with ones personal spaces nurtured by pandemics and possibly, global wars. Thankfully most of us haven’t seen the latter, but from the word on Nostalgia Street*, even those were more sociably congenial times than the ones we’re currently living in.

That being so, we’re also now constantly bombarded with news, views and opinions and a fair bit of media-propelled propaganda, persuasion and proselytism. The opportunity to step back and take stock in this information-gorged environment is becoming as difficult as it is necessary. The 21st century version of Orwell’s Newspeak* is unfolding in eerie global concordance as we parrot phrases, speculations and judgements with an unusual homogenous fervour and abandon. The Herd Mentality has unfortunately struck much earlier than any much sought after Herd Immunity as we navigate through the confounding dominion of the Mighty Microbes.

The above is meant to give some background to my subsequent Blog op-ed below:

On the face of it, the current “dithering” of the Pakistani government on the issue of permitting Ramzan-related en-mass worship seems lacking in political guts, glory and everything in between. (In fact, it comes across as a shameless pandering to the religio-political factions which have over the years dug their prayer-calloused heels quite deeply into the statutory landscape of the country). And that may be so in the clinical versions of democracy and statesmanship. But the political landscapes of the middle and low income nations can’t be fitted into constitutional ideologies created by the First World. The cultural, social and religious fundamentals are so complex and unique to each country, that painting them with the “magic” brush of western democratic ideals is hardly astute or effective state stewardship.

Pakistan has the dubious advantage of having one of the youngest populations globally (barring some African countries). Over 30% of the 230 million people are under the age of 15; and the average Pakistani is under 25 years old. We know that the best immunity to be had is the one that we develop while doing a brisk Attan* with the pathogen. We also know that it will be at least a year before the second-best option of a vaccine will see the light of day. We know too that neither our economy nor our national infrastructure is evolved enough to tide the republic through a long-standing/ indefinite lockdown.

We then, are in the dubiously optimal position to relax the ‘Stay at Home’ regimen, crank up the rusty engines as they are, of local industry and begin our lives Concurrent to Covid. Chances are that the herd immunity will kick in by the time the next wave of the virus washes up on our shores and we should be better placed to fight the invisible enemy – mostly Immunity wise, because expecting commercially, socially or religiously advanced miracles of our slap-dash citizenry is like expecting the cow to actually jump over the moon. There will be some losses and all lives are precious ….so the First world fairytale goes. But the biting reality is that far more of those precious lives will be lost through starvation, avoidable illnesses, elevated crime, lingering civil strife and other disturbing consequences of putting the lockdown spanner in the national works.

Which brings me to my ambiguous role as a spokesperson of the devout:

While the very spirit of this stubbornness to worship congregationally, reeks of selfishness and non communal fervour in every way, it is also that trademark cantankerous endeavour at keeping the civic energy buzzing which is the critical element. Maybe this time, our self-serving religiosity is being endorsed by the universe itself for the salubrious irony inherent in the devotedness. Maybe it is one of those rare occasions warranting madness that may some day…later this year in fact, with round two of the virus, be touted as a modern day religious miracle: God will have been front and centre of our Ramzan ardour as our biology too, triumphs; and we exponentially build immunity towards a more robust future. Inshallah!

De khudai pe aman.

*Nostalgia Street: tales of yore/ anecdotal blasts from the past

*Newspeak: propagandist language that is based on discouraging free/ independent thought through reduction in the nuance and ambiguity inherent in the language

*Attan: a folk dance indigenous to Afghanistan and northern Pakistan

SHORT STORY|The Fatigue

I was so tired.

I arrived at my grandmother’s house, Z___abad, at a little past 3pm. It was a cool mid-March evening and the slight chill in the air felt soothing. I made my way up the broad walkway towards the main house. The familiar spring foliage in the inner garden was in full, salutary bloom. My favourite shrubbery running the length of the high ceilinged veranda was inflorescent with a myriad shades of green, ranging from the deep dark of the Monstera to the delicate green plumage of the Bougainvillea. The late afternoon light played lazily along the palm-shaded steps leading from the garden to the veranda – each umbrous shape flitting like a gossamer phantom between the real and the shadow worlds.

There was a faint smell of the rose and bergamot incense that my grandmother had liked to burn every so often; usually, when the gastronomic labour of love, undertaken daily through prodigious breakfast and lunch preparations for the family and the contingent of domestic staff, was done for the day. It wafted in barely perceptible undulations like shy little wraiths playing hide and seek.

I stopped for a bit to take it all in….breathe it all in. I was home.

But I was so tired.

I walked into the big, airy lounge, greeted immediately by the portraits of my grandmother and my mother. I looked at the pictures, and waited for the inevitable wrenching tug of heartache. It didn’t come. Instead, I felt a quiet calmness and solace… I was back home.

“You’ve arrived”. P. abai, the old homestead retainer said, looking at me quizzically. I hadn’t heard her come in. I smiled and we embraced. Z__abad and P. abai are intrinsically bound together in all my memories of the place.

“Where were you the last time I came here? You’d been ill and then they said you didn’t come back. I missed you”, I said looking at her gently smiling face.

“I’ve missed all of you too. I had to go away for a while….”. She hesitated, looking at me tenderly and then smiled again.

“I’ll bring you some tea – you must be tired” She said with an affectionate caress on my head.

I smiled at her and watched her go out through the lounge doors, melting into the evening shadows that had descended on the sun-warmed veranda. I shivered a little – the residual late winter chill had further cooled the evening air. I sat on my grandmother’s chair at the familiar old dining table. The edges of the flowery linoleum table cloth fluttered tremulously in the crisp March breeze that wafted in through the open doors.

I could still smell the incense faintly. I glanced around the room, vaguely wondering where it was coming from. It didn’t matter; it was replete with nostalgia and serenity. I looked outside at the garden. The twilight of dusk had succumbed to a tranquillising, soothing darkness.

Exhaustion washed over me.

I put my head back and closed my eyes.

I finally rested.

Khyber News Alert:There was an accident on Highway S-1 near Charsadda this afternoon at 3.15pm. The Nissan Sunny car driver had fallen asleep at the wheel and had plunged head-on into a lorry carrying scaffolding girder beams. The driver has been hospitalised with a broken leg. The passenger, a woman in her 40s, died on the spot”.

PANDEMIC 2020|Hairy Adventures – Part deux

Pandemic Special

It’s been just short of a month since the current curfew conditions were imposed in our city, and quite a lot longer in some other metropolises. And while the world at large has been preoccupied with the more immediate imperative of procuring food and other essential provisions, nature has been gleefully taking its regular course on all other fronts. Including the Follicular.

Three weeks on, and one can finally look in the mirror and know for a fact that what folks see of you now is what they actually get- an abundance of character, a pretty robust immunity (you’re still around aren’t you!) and of course the extra kg or so of all sorts of hirsute proliferation. This may include the heretofore publicly unseen unibrow, now quivering with health in its full horizontal entirety; and maybe also a quite robust moustache, that you last encountered when you were 14 and were still fast friends with all hair-related outcroppings. And of course the resilient growth on the arms and legs- a veritable extra canopy against the clammily bracing tropical breezes. Needless to say, many an air-conditioning thermostat has been adjusted to account for the extra covering, worn per force.

With the curfew now onerously plodding into its fourth week, the thin stores of razors and depilatories have also probably become nostalgic Ghosts of Hairlessness Past. And The more genteel amongst us are now probably spending more than a few of our locked-down hours thinking up ways of “taming the beast” before heading out for a session with Tania at Waxworks …. whenever that might be! The more constructively intrepid may even share a digital pearl of homegrown wisdom on the subject. So, together with updates on visiting food trucks, a social media hawkeye on this aspect may be of vast benefit to some….. many… who am i kidding, all of us!

In the meantime, the other denominator- the salon staff, are clocking their own glabrous countdowns to the time when they can alter the current Corona trend of Grisly Ladies who Lunch- in solitary. Needless to say, the urge to pluck, yank and depilate is intense across the entire salon confluence. I for one, got a lovely message from my resident spa wizard asking about my general well being. I told her that I missed her and that I was now quite definitely looking like Snow White’s wicked stepmother sans her magic (read: beautifying!!) wand. The hair was growing inelegantly grey and the eyebrows looked like 2 very, very distantly related cousins, in the aftermath of some personal endeavours in that area. In summary, I was not only suffering from cabin fever after all this home boundedness, but was with every passing day, looking more and more like I’d stepped out of the Neanderthal display in a natural history museum. She was delighted!

The age of the Corona is obviously teaching us more than just patience, forebearance and humility. It is also adjusting (correcting?) our socially conditioned sense of self as more and more, we’re letting it “all hang out”. Our partners too, are hesitantly/ puzzlingly/ apprehensively (depending on how much of a real life filter you had going on for yourself!) getting used to the peremptory au naturale trend of 2020.

The runways in 2021 will be interesting to watch. Nameless/ faceless models, with on-point face masks and matching all season gloves, teaching us elegant ways of walking 6 feet apart from one another. The post-Covid ramps will offer little occasion to portray beauty that is only skin-deep; picture perfect, surgically enhanced features will seem irrelevant and ephemeral after the corporeity of the previous year. It’ll probably spawn a whole new return to basics with a more authentic medley of wellness, beauty and form.

That will imaginably be a CSL – a Corona Silver Lining.

Hairy adventures

De Khudai pe aman.

PANDEMIC 2020|The Importance of being Gracious

(Quite as Important as being Earnest)

These are strange, even somewhat chilling times as we navigate through a viral storm of unprecedented proportions.

We have all been constrained to significantly modify our lives as we traverse the largely uncharteted waters of interminably extended curfews and lockdowns. Where the regular hustle and bustle of life as we’ve known it, has changed drastically to not only embrace a new kind of solitary social ideology but also how we go about procuring our daily provisions.

For those of us living in curfew-bound localities where we are dependent on the good graces of generally wayward supplies trucks that roll in occasionally, this change has been much more onerous. And that is where our hidden stores of grace, forbearance and compassion come in.

These are difficult times, no doubt, but everyone of us is capable of showing that essential modicum of dignity and consideration for our neighbours and fellow condominium residents as the case may be. So next time when our friendly Covid-era food trucks swing by, it would be a first class gesture of camaraderie and beneficence to fight the urge to amass as much as you can carry and then some. There are other residents who are in a similar nutritionally-deprived state, undergoing the very same Where’s-the-next-decent-meal-coming-from mental trauma and who would therefore mightily appreciate some manner of social solicitude.

So yes, despite the 40,000 year old homo sapien brain sophistication, there are those perplexing few among us who still feel their ancient Neanderthal instincts frantically kicking in when times are uncongenial. But, there is light at the end of that inter-epochal tunnel; a splendid little trick to help you overcome those unbecoming primeval compulsions: Drop down on one knee, or both (depending on your orthopaedic veracity) and pretend to look for some lost little thing (“Decency!” the crowd vociferates! But i digress…) Let the ancient brain, in the astute survival legacy of our Palaeolithic ancestors, urgently scout for the next meal potentially crawling by. That flagrant substratal self-reminder will almost surely help to put you squarely back on the path to Homo sapien self actualisation. And as the blood rushes to your brain while maintaining that perfect primate squat, stark Cro-Magnon man lucidity will hit even more sharply as you quite quickly realise that you’re darned well not going to munch through or cook those 2 Keells* bags full of vegetables you’re eyeing like manna from heaven, or wash your entire wardrobe 7 times over.

Let Grace into your lives- the quality that is; letting the lady in may cause inessential stress and scandal in these already testing times. (Bad joke- courtesy: Corona Fatigue!)

Come on folks, let’s be decent. Let there be kindness and empathy. And the vital awareness that never before has it been more important to unite as a community, a species and an intelligent, aware and perceptive life force across our wounded world.

Start with your neighbourhood. Be mindful. Be courteous. Be kind.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Keells: a prominent grocery chain across the island

PANDEMIC 2020|For whom the Curfew tolls

(The summons of the Paleolithic Man!)

A bit of a rant, this. We’re one of the few countries where the citizens/ residents are being superintended by an all-out curfew rather than the slightly more assuasive (read: civilised) “Lockdown”.

This is now Day 15 of the curfew and there is no end in sight. As much as the citizenry at large appreciates the abundantly aggressive government efforts to quell the spread of this bacillus extremis, there has to be a method to the autocratic madness. And I’m not even discounting the efficacy of the said establishmentarian mania – a lot of us do well with a touch of dictatorial fanaticism. It must, however, be accompanied by some reasonable strategy and respite to keep the citizenry from resorting to unbecoming and indeed criminal mental and physical health-preserving conduct:

  • Unbridled social revelry (Ad_ D___*: “11,000 imprisoned” for flouting the curfew, no doubt to escape the ‘house arrest’ atmosphere of the last fortnight now, and counting);
    Venturing out of their homes on the sly (Ad_ D___: “2,700 vehicles impounded”, of blunderingly-adulting truants who were probably out to procure some bread or aspirin).

The populace at large, indulging in all manner of deception and intrigue to beat the system.

The logistical support in terms of the supply of essential food stuff, personal care and pharmaceutical products has been dismal, nay, grievously absent. It’s almost like the people of the city have been coercively cast in a tropical version of “The Hunger Games” – all scavenging for anything they can even remotely use (or not; the urge to amass is supreme), to survive with some degree of grace. We are (and not very unhurriedly at that!) giving in to our primeval hunter/ gatherer nature as Meghalayan supply chains have become woefully erratic at best and quite absent generally.

To the powers that be and to the Curfew administrators at large: we appreciate your version of tactical warfare in the face of the NCoV** assault, but a tad more thought behind the how, when and wherefore of maintaining order, and indeed the cycle of life itself in the Oceanic province*** is paramount. Get the perishable and non perishable food and medicines supply networks organised across all sectors of the city. When all’s said and done, with all its malefic pestilence, even the Corona plunges forth as per set environmental and proximity protocols. We, then, are touted to be the intelligent species, at the top of the food chain.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Ad_ D___: news portal/ broadcasting channel in the country

**NCoV: Novel Corona Virus

***Oceanic province: from Orwell’s “1984” where the the main plot unfolds in London, in the Oceanic Province that “had once been called England or Britain”

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