FEATURE| THE NOSTALGIA OF A NICE CUP OF TEA

Teatime- a word that invokes so many nostalgic memories, while also carrying with it the promise of another little social do right around the corner. I write this from the subcontinental (read: classic) perspective where tea means exactly that, and is not in fact a culinary codeword for another meal…like dinner perhaps!

Having lived in a country, nigh upon six years now, which is known for its magnificent tea plantations, I came here expecting to be swept off my feet with supremely flavourful tea served with as much fanfare. But oh, the lost pleasure of the perfect cup of tea! Not only has the stately beverage been woefully overshadowed by its more robust cousin, the sinewy coffee, but the genteel art of tea making itself has been all but sabotaged by our time-constrained lifestyles.

Tepid tea, (whatever happened to tea-cosies?) just this side of being too anaemic or too vigorous, is the norm at most places. Tea brewing is a lost art that even tea timers haven’t been able to revive (those aging relics that lie there, unused, taunting tea drinkers; and then fading a little more into oblivion as they realise the futility of their efforts). Tea strainers are further dying remains of the classic tea trolley. So, even potentially good cups of tea will quickly take on a bizarre, almost bovine experience as one chews the leaves along with each sip.

The silver lining in all this post modern annihilation of the elegant art of tea making is the teatime legacy my sisters and I have carried into our lives. Having grown up in a home where tea and the accompanying panoply was the norm, this has been a delightful happenstance. Teatime at home consisted of lavish spreads of everything from pastries and sandwiches to biscuits and dahi bhallas*. And of course it meant steaming pots upon pots of Kenyan tea laced ever so delicately with earl grey. It became an affair, synonymous with togetherness, laughter and chatter. A time for capricious banter and tender confidences- a caffeine-warmed embrace of the ebb and flow of our lives. And at the centre of this lovely intimacy was my mother, the gracious matriarch who made this teatime magic happen.

In conclusion, of all the tea connoisseurs/ growers/ curators of the experience on the island, I ask that you breathe fresh life into this exquisite tradition. It is the assured panacea to many a dreadful day, of which sadly, we have all seen our fair share lately. In the words of Bernard-Paul Heroux, “There is no trouble so great or so grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea”; the “nice” there being replete with all manner of ambrosial and soul and spirit uplifting possibilities.

*Dahi Bhalla: a savoury, yogurt-based snack indigenous to the subcontinent.

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.

SHORT STORY|2020: A Cosmic Odyssey

AD 2020 – THE ENCOUNTER

“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 Alternate 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 Ripple Effect -Round Table (Re-Rt) had been wildly ricocheting, charged with intensity and disquietude. The last time I’d experienced these wildly inconsistent cognition waves, was in the Enhanced Virtual Reality 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 primeval 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 evolution. 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 3.14″.

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 3.14 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 on Earth 42.

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

GLOSSARY OF TERMS:

*Ripple Effect Round Table (RE-Rt): 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 fiction writer, futurist and inventor, Arthur C. Clarke.

*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 virus Pandemic lock down.

*Perception Clearance: a shifting of energy to harmonise two 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 – the 46th POTUS

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

*Species Intelligentes: Intelligent Species, in Latin.

Some other Trump favourites:

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 as per Douglas Adams in his book “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and a number of other philosophers/ thinkers.

No. 420: a colloquialism used in Urdu/ Hindi to depict slyness/ insidiousness. It is also cannabis culture slang for marijuana and hashish consumption, especially smoking around the time 4:20 p.m., and also refers to cannabis-oriented celebrations that take place annually on April 20 (which is 4/20 in U.S. form).

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.

SHORT STORY|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 two 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 reproach. 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 two 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 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 sugary sweetness.

Anyhow, thought Sabeen, it had been six 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 hollow gut into a tentative rumbling dance.

She smiled to herself ….Princess Sabeen! Maybe…. probably… hopefully! She laughed at her own childlike excitement, while a delightful little secret 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.

SHORT STORY|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 slumbersome 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 delightfully enagaged in a variety of high society shenanigans. Her enduring 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 riotous 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 zestful 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 diligently 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.

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

VERSE|The Ballad of Bubba Buckley

A fond tribute to all the hillbillies around the world; to the vaccinated lot and the detergent gulpers 😉

I was mindin’ ma own beeswax, toilin’ on the grange,
potterin’ in my chicken coops, Tendin’ to ma mange;
Got it off sweet Misty Dawn, the old ass at the farm,
She’s in Donkey Heaven now and left me with the charm.
I’d have a 12 Corona pack, and get drunk as Cooter Brown*,
I’d be swayin’ about the Hillby Farm until the sun went down.
I was happy as a pig in mud*. America was great.
And then the dammed Corona virus came to the United States.


I done not seen it yet; they say it’s kinda small.
But ma piggy babies are tiny too, and I can see ‘em all!
I got me a pair of new clod hoppers from Jed’s shoe estate,
To stamp out the damned varmint, if it came up to ma gate.
I also done taken out, ma AR-15,
And polished it up nicely to a mighty high gleam.
And If I ever see that Corona son of a gun,
I’ll mow it down with a full-on clip ‘fore I’m fully done!


The Corona! Who’d have thunk, that beer could be mean!
I’ve done throwed 24 cans of it on the grody heap.
I’m indulgin’ me ale-hankerin’ with this new “Lion Beer”
Brewed in Colombo, Kentucky by a good ol’ American brewer.
Now I sit on ma porch all day, until it done get dark,
Waitin for the cowardly Corona to holler its ugly bark.
I got ma gun on the ready, and ma virus killin’ gel,
“I’m ready for ya plonker, and you can Kiss ma go to hell*!”


They say the Corona’s got a magical wee cloak,
And you can’t really see the darn thang until you all-out croak.
And then it just eats ya, right up from the inside,
So you’re not there no more - like you just never died!
No sir! I ain’t gonna let that happen to ol’ Bubba Buckley,
I already got me a verse cut in marble for when I decease.
And then I heard our Cap’n Trump on the idiot box,
He said drinking De-tergent will kill the nasty fox.
So I went to ol’ Skeeters, and got me 20 pods of Tide,
Gonna have the whole darned lot with ma Lion beer tonight.

De Khudai pe aman

Southern Slang/ Idioms:
*As drunk as Cooter Brown: Very drunk; inebriated
*Happy as a pig in mud: very happy; ecstatic
*Kiss My Go to Hell: Kiss my a**
*Hankering: craving; urge

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|Home sweet Hom(age)

Of Garlic presses, Firestarters and the BBC

Starting with a cliche isn’t usually one of my proudest writing moments, but i’m employing the poetic/ prose license bestowed on all of us by these downright bizarre times. While it would seem almost counter-intuitive to wax eloquent on any kind of ‘home-boundedness’ at this juncture in our various mass lockdown and curfew situations, it is also a good time to cogitate on what makes the home so sweet. In fact, if I didn’t put some pixels behind the cause, I would probably undo a whole lot of the arduously achieved homestead allurement in a flash of claustrophobic bluster.

So here is my tribute to the delightfulness of my abode (albeit currently surrounding me unremittingly, endlessly, ceaselessly, 24 hours, non stop!)

My plants: The genial collection of flora in my balcony that brightens my day straight up. It’s like having some green friends over who have over time, set down roots at your place and have decided to stay for as long as you’ll have them. Some of the more enthusiastic boarders may encroach on your hospitality and bring along a few dozen other weedy friends to their fertile bedchambers off and on. Even so, the happy floral assemblage outside my window never grows old. Bless them!

My Corridor: The 30 foot corridor (from the lounge to the kitchen) has saved me more than once, from enacting Stephen King’s Firestarter* routine. Every occasion I feel the cabin fever setting in and the heebie jeebies creeping up on me, I put on my sneakers and kick-off on what i call my “20 Minute Corridor Constitutional”. The mental and emotional stress-release is phenomenal, not to mention the vast numbers I end up adding to my daily step count. There have been curfew-bound days when I’ve averaged 22,000 steps just from my corridor walkabouts. Needless to say, those were also the days I almost gnashed my teeth to the gums, uttered a lot of pandemic invective and played nervously with my well worn box of matches…..

(An affectionate cheer to my Dad here, who introduced me to these indoor perambulations as the healthful aftermaths to a fulsome meal. Thank you Dad!)

My kitchen: The heretofore dubious capital investment in my home. I’ll just put it out there: never had the inclination nor the interest to cook up a storm or even a mere waft of a breezy hours de oeuvre or two. I have relied on the cooking graces of others – both at home and outside- to nourish me. So it is with a peculiar and rather hesitant delight that I have discovered the magic of the hob, the relish of shallow frying, the perfection of silicon egg poachers and the satisfying sharpness of a kitchen knife. No, no… halt that imagination forthwith if you please! The knife has gone straight for the heart of the vegetable or fruit I’m attacking, thank you. The macabre, keen-edged shenanigans I shall leave to the crime writers who are probably blowing off some dubious steam of their own these days! I quite like my kitchen now and have even added a garlic press to my list of things to buy post-pandemic; no store bought garlic paste for this kitchen adventurer! When in a pandemic, go the whole nine yards. It’s a great lockdown time-batterer.

My 6 bottles of wine: I’m glad they were there when the psyche was engaged in bloody battle with the curfew. They’re all gone now. ’nuff said.

My telly: Together with my first cup of tea of a pandemic morning, the caffeine hit is not quite complete without a dose of Doctor S. Gupta, David Eades and Christiane Amanpour, and of course a trademark Trump sound byte. As I’ve been raising the bar on my Pandemic self actualisation scale, I have also begun to reduce my News addiction, and have actually watched a fair bit of Netflix. My profound cinematic conclusion: Stand-up comedy routines are chicken soup for the Curfew-bound soul!

Other digital media: My WhatsApp and weblog connections with my near and dear ones have helped to keep the heart intact in all this mayhem. No matter where each one of us is, we know we’re just a meme, a joke, a💋 , a 🤗 and a 📞-call away from one another. Let’s keep rocking it my lovelies!

And so, it was on a Wednesday afternoon or was it a Thursday….. ? Which brings me to another realisation: There are no real days of the week in a pandemic, as one day seamlessly merges into the next. And so, it was on a Pandesday** that i sat back and took stock of my home and all the joy it still brings me when the world outside seems alien, blighted and frightening.

Home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling – of security, comfort and serenity. And this is my homage to the whole gamut of protecting, sheltering homes and home-makers across the planet.

De Khudai pe aman.

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

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

PANDEMIC 2020|The Journey to Calmness

Acceptance, Grace and Tranquility

It’s been tragic, arduous, bizarre and even downright dull in the wake of the Bacillus Extremis. It’s been stressful and emotionally draining. The novel Corona, in all its microscopic might, has turned the world as we knew it, radically upside down and even inside out. It’s left many of us wondering if life as we knew it, is an epoch now past and if we are indeed on the threshold of a new kind of world. An existence underscored by a uniquely new approach to community, sociability and even intimacy with our loved ones outside of our nuclear families. The anticipation of what is to come is tremulous with disquietude. Glimmers of hope are rare and are constantly shrouded by the ever-burgeoning core of this malaise we are calling the novel Corona.

I have over the long, sometimes interminable hours of the last month had ample opportunity to think, remonstrate, deflect, clamour, feud, conjecture and concede. Most times, with myself; sometimes with the screen of my LG television and also via a few unpropitious encounters with near and dear ones. Like many out there, i went through the whole gamut of emotions experienced in the aftermath of a trauma. The degree varied but the angst was much the same and it took the whole experiential sequence for me to attain my post-Covid calm and the almost existential approbatio* of whatever will be will be. Here’s my journey:

  • Shock and bewilderment – just as i was ready to come out of corporate hibernation and re-enter some semblance of a working environment, WFH* becomes the new standard. So it was back to a sketchy hibernation much like a wide awake, ready-for-a-big-fat-spring-meal bear who has blundered out in a blustery January.
  • Hypervigilance about the future – a zombie apocalypse was bound to follow and the only skill i could bring to the “Walking Dead” In Situ was an uncanny ability to multitask and a canny capacity to write farce…. facts, pithy historical facts…. who am i kidding, Farce with, I’m hoping, a bit of heart.
  • Intense anger and irritability – the cabin fever coincided very nicely with the PMS peevishness, so the beloved familial circle was hardly the wiser. They all took the usual ‘shelter in place’ when the spillways of tetchiness and petulance sent forth their monthly rush of acidity.
  • Sadness and depression – the biggest contributor here was the woeful lack of my mid morning caffeine ‘jostle’, imbibed in the form of a very anaemic latte in the wistfully clammy, alfresco environs of my neighbourhood bistro and wine bar. The atmospheric withdrawal has been excruciating…. “Oh Sugar! Honey honey! You are my candy girl and you’ve got me wanting you!”
  • Apathy and emotional numbness: This phase consisted entirely of tremendously long hours spent tuned into the CNN, the BBC and Aljazeera. I watched these unblinkingly, unemotionally, waiting for the penny to drop. At their end. For the media parody to finally end so i could go back to buying lacteous lattes and sipping them pensively while i waited for epiphanous writing plots to excitingly unravel.
  • Recurring nightmares – Saturnine, spine chilling horrors. I dreamt of being chased by the spectral detritus of every spider and gecko I’d ever cursed or quelled in my life – may the universe keep the arachnid and reptilian populations in its blessed, all encompassing (read: inescapable) embrace. It was terrifying and worse than any human zombie herd, bearing down on me with its gnashing assortment of acid-corroded teeth.
  • Acceptance – And then the essential provisions/ food trucks started coming with a reassuring frequency so we knew with a measure of confidence that we weren’t going to starve anytime soon. In their nutritive wake, we also got the bearers of big and little treats like ice cream, cheese, cold meats and cakes. And that’s when the tide turned on all the under-the-breath utterances from across the spectrum of condominium dwelling humanity. The “Myth of the Super Luxury condos” was in the happy throes of being nullified, debunked, annihilated- at least in this episode of Man vs. Corona. The Myth of Super-Luxury Condominiums – Part Deux; The myth of “Super Luxury” condominiums
  • Moving on – Many of us have harnessed our new reality and even temerity of our existence and moved on the best we can. Some have embarked on halting but brave attempts at reviving a hobby or honing an aspirational skill; others have revisited their approach to health with new fervour; still others are taking the time to unwind, meditate, introspect and heal. While we make our individual post-Covid journeys of renewal and self discovery, we have, as a species, also stepped back so that our battered planet can recover, revive and renew.

I leave you with the below lines from Carl Sagan:

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam“.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Approbatio: Latin for approving, assenting, acceptance

**WFH: Working From Home

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