Saturday, August 2, 2014

On life and loss

I’m writing after a long time, and as I write, I’m not sure If I’ll be able to put in words how I feel, but right now, I feel the need to write, perhaps more than ever .It’s like applying a soothing balm to the pain felt by the heart, it wont heal the wound, but the pain might temporarily subside. Sometimes, life can be harsh. Some things, like the departure of a loved one leave a permanent void in our life and there is absolutely nothing that we can do to overcome the loss. Last week, my beloved grandmother passed away, leaving us with nothing but beautiful memories. Throughout her life, my grandma has always been a courageous woman, always ready to face any challenge that life threw at her, but after four long months of suffering, and battling cancer, we eventually had to say our final goodbyes to her as she breathed her last. It’s incredibly painful to see near and dear ones in such agony and cancer is an utterly brutal disease, so we try to find comfort by knowing that her suffering has finally come to an end. But that’s an explanation which the heart doesn’t understand easily. Till the very last minute, the heart quite naively, was still wishing for a miracle. 

 My grandmother was a kind, caring and selfless woman, who was always a joy to be around.  She understood that life is all about giving rather than receiving love and poured her love out to everyone she met, regardless of age or relationship. Even in her final days, I remember her warm smile while lying down on the bed as soon as she saw me and my parents walk into her immaculate, spotlessly clean room. Although, she had become too weak to even speak to us, but that smile of hers had spoken volumes about the love and contentment she felt upon seeing us. The smile spoke of peace and comfort, the kind of emotions a lost child feels upon seeing the parents. A smile that silently said “Now that all my children and grandchildren are with me , I’ll be alright.”

 I’m very blessed to have known her for 25 years and would love to be a copy-cat and grow up to be just like her in personality and appearance.  She was a very soft-spoken, polite and gracious lady. I always admired that about her. When she spoke, she spoke with the gentleness of a rose petal, a quality that seems too old-fashioned in today’s rowdy and fast paced world. She taught me an important lesson,  that it’s the little things in life that actually matter, treating others with respect, forgiving the ones that hurt you, being grateful for whatever you have, and never losing hope.  

I’ll always miss you daadi, the way you elegantly draped your saaris , your love for pearls, and the smell of Yardley powder you’d leave on my shirt, after a tight, loving hug.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Facing the music

It’s quite surprising how empowering music can be, perhaps the only worldly force that can touch the soul and mold hearts .Music, like any other form of art, has the ability to evoke certain feelings and emotions in us humans and perhaps that’s why it has a significant influence over our frame of mind and subsequently over our thoughts.   In my life of 24 years , I’ve always lived very passionately and boldly , going through various highs and lows of life, but the one thing that has always been there with me in times of joy and despair has been music – a friend to celebrate with and a shoulder to cry on. 

Back in my early years, I remember being part of the school choir as a flutist, in Islamabad Convent School. That was my first experience in learning any musical instrument. I distinctly remember the practice sessions that we had in our music teacher Sister Felly’s office, and how challenging it was at that time to get the do re mi’s right.  But even more importantly I remember the glorious performances we had, playing ‘Amazing Grace’ in front of large audiences, and hence, without even knowing it, I learnt two very important skills in life – coordination and confidence. 

In my teen years, I took guitar lessons for a little while, which was yet another crucial learning experience for me. I realized that in order to get better at anything in life, it’s important to be persistent and the best example for me was my guitar practices, where I could feel myself get better at it with every practice.  Moreover I learned that one song could be played through various chord progressions, and there was no right or wrong way to play it. That’s when I drew a parallel with real life, and came to appreciate other people’s opinions instead of just imprudently imposing mine on others.

However, it’s quite disappointing that our society still doesn’t appreciate the marvels that music brings and quite absurdly, music is considered to be pure evil and sinful. In most Pakistani schools, there is no concept of having a music class, not even at primary level and even if the school does offer music, it is considered as an unimportant and useless activity. What we don’t realize is, music and arts are just as important as science and math. Through art subjects like music, we get to enhance our creativity, and also learn to practice till perfect. Moreover we learn teamwork, coordination, and patience - values which are crucial for being successful in life.

Even if we look at it scientifically, music triggers the release of dopamine and oxytocin– those feel good hormones which are responsible for putting us in a happy and relaxed mood.  No wonder I like to start my days with a playlist of soft meaningful songs so I can feel its positive effects throughout the day.  Many may chose to deny, but the wonders of music can even be heard in the pristine Mother Nature itself.   If we develop a ‘ear’, we’ll begin to notice there’s music all around us- in the chirping of birds, in the soft whistling of rivers, in the clatter of the raindrops, and If we stop to imagine how the world would be without this natural music, maybe only then we would fully learn to appreciate how important it is to us.

Such ignorance and inability to understand the significance of art and music by our society really does raise a serious question.  Are we raising a generation of puppets, rather than creative, gifted, and tolerant individuals? 

Pyaar nahi hai sur se jisko voh murakh insaan nahi - Ammanat Ali
(The fool who does not love music is not a human being.)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Not quite modern after all

As humans, we love to criticize the politicians, criticize the relatives, criticize the neighbors and criticize every person whose part of our day to day lives. … So, lately (and quite predictably ) , the victim of  our insatiable need  for  criticism has been our  Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been facing serious flak for reading off pre-written notes at the joint statement with President Obama instead of speaking extempore . The twiterrati have been up in arms about it, accusing the Prime minister of being childish and under confident. But it’s not paper-reading, or not being articulate in English which measures the maturity of a person’s mind - it’s definitely more complicated than that.

The problem doesn’t lie with one person, but with our society in general, which is like a teenager going through puberty - very emotional, confused and gullible.  We are a confused lot, not knowing whether to adopt the changing trends of the western world, or stick to our historical traditions and (much glorified) cultural values.  We talk about big words like “revolution” and “change” (Tsunami, cough cough), but are we actually willing to take the giant leap?

In the urban cities of Pakistan, modernization is rapidly replacing social traditions.  It is mostly the aftermath of globalization and ever-increasing technology that has enabled us to challenge our customs and take one step further in the march towards a modern Pakistan. But let’s not kid ourselves, dressing up in western attire, or drinking (illegal) booze at a local party proves nothing! This is just a false illusion of “being modern” we create for ourselves… But our little “Hollywood Dream” (as I like to call it) shatters into a million pieces the minute you actually get to know that these seemingly modern people are just a bunch of kids trying to act cool!  Their minds are still too immature to understand and adopt new concepts, and once you pull of the masks of modernism that they proudly flaunt, one can expect the same century old viewpoints from them on contemporary issue.

What can you conclude when these same seemingly modern people go around justifying murder on the accounts of blasphemy, or when these same people hurl abuses at their female classmates and colleagues?   What can you say about their maturity level, when these ‘advocates of modernism’ choose to remain silent spectators, as they watch cold blooded rape become endemic in the country? And yet they talk about “Change” and “Revolution” which themselves seem like big words coming from an infant’s mouth. And let’s not forget about their never-ending conspiracy theories! Everything that goes wrong is this country is either a “bhaarti or a yahoodi saazish

The truth is, we need to pull our act together and grow up! We need to go into the depth and details of things before forming opinions about them.  Grownups take responsibility of their mistakes, and learn from them, rather than pointing fingers and coming up with all sorts of nonsense conspiracies.

Just the other day I saw this meme, showing a girl with a positive pregnancy test having a huge smile on her face hugging her boyfriend who  was far from amused, rather he looked as if he was struck by lightning. This was supposed to be humorous by the way. I dont get it!!!! Why engage in an adult activity, if you’re not ready to handle the consequences like adults? ……. But wait!  Isn't that exactly the same mindset of our “Pakistani modernists” as well?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Happy Eid ! - Be healthy, not skinny !

This Eid, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering about this new obsession with being skinny.  Like all festivals, Eid is all about eating holiday food, dressing up and taking loads of happy looking pictures (to put up on social media ironically). As I filled up my plate with all the savory chaats and traditional seviyaan (vermicelli) , I was more than shocked to hear my teenage cousin lament over how fat those extra calories will make her , as she put a slice of cake on her plate.

: -\

 Geez! When I was that young, I’d gobble up all the cake in the world without giving two hoots about my weight!  More shockingly, it’s quite common for girls as young as ten to be self conscious about their bodies instead of celebrating childhood and health.  But the fact is that this fascination with being model thin has taken over the minds over all women of all ages and it’s been going on for quite some time now.
Just like our media promotes the idea that white skin is beautiful, it also quite shamelessly promotes that the only people worthy of being considered pretty should be thin.  Now I am by no means suggesting that one should be obese and unhealthy, but what I find highly objectionable are the standards of beauty that the media, both print media and TV have created for us.  Being surrounded with anorexic models with huge breast implants, airbrushed makeup and photo shopped images, our minds subconsciously start to believe that is how a woman should look ideally, and let’s face it- that is how we also aspire to look.

The media has spent years and years drumming it into our minds, that skinny is sexy and everything else is downright hideous!  The startling thing is that the skinniness they project is not only unachievable but more importantly it’s all fake! But since the general population has endorsed this twisted concept of beauty , as a result we always remain unsatisfied with our appearance no matter how good we look, because we cannot achieve the flawlessness that the media projects.  We are always worrying about that little extra flab, or a fuller looking face or slightly heavier arms. Here’s time for a reality check-that is what REAL woman look like, and they ARE pretty despite the slight imperfections! 

It’s astonishing to see the extent to which women go in order to achieve the look of the ‘perfect media woman’. Cosmetic surgery, liposuction, breast implants, harmful medication and eating disorders are becoming increasingly common. The situation is so bad that even teenage girls, who are in their growing stages and need proper nutrition, have started to exchange health with ‘beauty’ -the new name for being skinny!

What we need is courage - to refuse to be controlled by the media and instead set our own standards of attractiveness. If Kate Winslet can refuse to step on the skinny bandwagon and audaciously flaunt her curves on the same television which promotes skinniness , than that should be a big encouragement for us ‘ women of the world’  to be able to feel confident and pretty even if we are not thin. The focus should be on being healthy and most importantly happy!

So ladies,  it’s time to sit back, relax, and have a great time without worrying too much about the weight. There are far better things in life to focus on.

……..And  anyways , the only thing that looks good skinny is a pair of skinny jeans !

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cricket- The glue that binds us together

We Pakistanis are already a fragmented society, divided on the basis of religion, ethnicity, provinces, socio-economical backgrounds and urban class/ rural class. Moreover the country is going through tough times. Inflation, terrorism, corruption, increasing crime rates, and political instability have brought about despair and hopelessness.  But the one thing that binds us together, despite all our differences and dissimilarities is cricket!

I've inherited my interest in cricket from my dad, who being a fifty-something busy doctor, still follows the the game unfailingly and his passion for cricket is beyond measure..  I remember my childhood memories of the entire extended family sitting together in my uncles Tv lounge and watching the world cup , cheering and clapping at every ‘chakka’ (six runs) and exclaiming  ‘out hai out hai!’ whenever a player would get out, scrutinizing and analyzing the batsman's every slightest move. Although I was just a little kid at that time, I still remember the energy and thrill that surrounded the room and it felt wonderful to see the entire family so deeply involved in the sport, from my grandmother to my youngest cousins.

Perhaps that’s why I like cricket so much, because it seems to be the only secular thing about the country that everyone is passionate about. It feels great to be able to sit in one room or one stadium (as it used to be before the Srilankan Team was attacked in 2009) without discriminating against caste, ethnicity or religion and just lose ourselves into the game, cheering for a common cause.  Soumya Bhattacharya in his book ‘You must like Cricket’ has quite accurately called cricket the ‘Anti-Religion’ for the subcontinent, and in fact that is the only thing that glues us together and enables us to unite.

The true beauty of cricket can be experienced whenever there’s a cricket tournament going on. It feels good to see the whole country taking an active part in the festivities and giant screens being set up where friends and families can go to not only watch the sport but also socialize. The sense of patriotism and oneness, the thrill and energy, the lively and enthusiastic audience – where else does one see such fervor in Pakistan?
Even on an international level, it is cricket which bonds us together with the other desis living abroad. All desis , Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis all are equally passionate about the sport which automatically ties them  together irrespective of their nationalities.  As a staunch critic of the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, this brotherhood is like a dream come true! However it is quite shameful to see the hype that the local news channels create whenever there’s a Pakistan – India match. They forget the true essence of the game, and make it a matter of ego and prestige which spoils all the fun. Of course us people of the subcontinent are known to be a very emotional lot, but I think it’s very wrong of the media to turn the one thing that brings joy and happiness to the country into another tension filled drama! (As if we already don’t have so many things to be tensed about!)

So I’m glad that this Eid there are two remarkably exciting series to keep us all entertained. There’s Pakistan vs South Africa (ahem the chokers ! ) and India Vs Australia, and I’m glad that I can spend my holidays watching the matches with my dad and sort of reinvent my childhood memories . Sadly it’s just going to be the two of us this time as most of my family has shifted abroad. But that doesn’t matter because cricket is cricket. Full Stop. …….. Jeetay ga bhaiii jeetay gaa !! 

Image taken from

Friday, October 11, 2013

Naya Pakistani - A Fight against Patriarchy and Double Standards

Earlier this year, Pakistan was struck by the election fever and there were chants and roars of  “Naya Pakistan”  (new Pakistan)  echoing from every nook and cranny of the  whole country. I’m not too sure what that whole campaign was promising, and I must admit that I was (and still am) very skeptical about Imran Khan’s idea of “change”, but I do believe that in order to progress, what this country desperately needs is a “Naya Pakistani”.
Pakistan is strictly a patriarchal society, where the main purpose of women is servitude. The women are looked upon as a secondary entity that has to be controlled, either by the father, the brother or the husband. The way we look at and treat our women is deplorable. Street crime, sexual harassment, rape, honor killings and female infanticide, child marriages all take place on a day to day basis, and our reaction –silence.  This says a lot about  our ethics as a society. Even in colleges and workplaces, more than often women are quick to be categorized as “loose charactered” , ( which is society’s terminology for  being immoral and easy) and that too on the basis of the way they dress and their independence.  But of course the same doesn't go for men.
 From childhood onwards, there is a certain level of bias in most households which is constantly brainwashing the minds of both boys and girls in the house making them realize their gender roles.The boys are allowed a lot more liberty than girls, encouraging them to believe that they are superior to girls in a number of ways. The girls are forced to dress in a way that is considered acceptable in the society, stripping them of all rights to dress according to their own choice. Even when it comes to marriage, a girl who dares to marry with her own will is shunned and labeled as shameless but there are no such rules for the boys.  Now we know that smoking is injurious to health for both male and female. Find out your teenage son is smoking? Lecture him a bit, scold him a bit, and that the end of the story. Find out your adult daughter is smoking? Yell at her, start crying, start hiding face from the society, curse her, hurl abuses at her and in short make life a living hell for her! So are we not promoting the patriarchal mindset ourselves, every time we define gender roles in our homes?

Even the aunties, who are hunting for a bahu rani will dismiss the thoughts of any girl who dares to go against the society’s norms.  If you’ve ever been to the seemingly hifi desi weddings there’s always a group of four five ladies, all ready with their designer outfits, perfectly blow dried hair and meticulously painted faces ready with all the latest family gossip. (I can’t help but listen to their conversation wondering if their talking about me!)  Their typical conversation “That girl seems sweet, but haiii no I saw a picture of her wearing sleeveless”,  “That girl over there seems sweet too , but oh my! I’ve heard she’s had an affair in the past, what shame she has brought to her family, uff Allah! *makes that frown face* , oh but wait that girl over there in yellow with a duppata on her head seems like a good match…” then one of the other aunties will say, “oh don’t even think about it, this head-covering shovering is all a clever act, I tell you on the inside she is of ….loose character!” …..So ironically, even our own women promote this patriarchal “It’s a man’s world” mindset.

What’s even more disgusting is that since a very early age boys are given a free pass to disrespect women and pass judgments about them.  Whistling, passing lewd comments, groping, stalking and harassing are the norms, and instead of finding these acts shameful, it is usually a matter of pride and a way to bond with other men. But of course the men are never to be blamed and always get to hide behind the security blanket society’s given to them. In a society like ours,  all it takes to get away with this wretched behavior is to blame it on the girl , the way she dresses, the way she walks, talks, and if nothing else, then fabricate a story of her being loose charachtered and deserving of such treatment! 

How can we even dream of  a better Pakistan with such pathetic morals and mentality, where the females are the most vulnerable of all living things, where the male ego is so large that even murder in the name of  ‘family honour’ is accepted.   It’s high time we bring about a revolution from our own homes, and transform ourselves into “Naya Pakistanis” where we rise above these societal pressures and treat our women with the respect and dignity that they deserve.  We need to break free from the chains of patriarchy and give our woman their rights when it comes to education, property, power and status. Only then can we hope for a Naya Pakistan!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Rituals without Meaning

Human beings rely on habit and rituals to an extent that they form rituals for everything in life, either big or small. Cutting a birthday cake is a classic example. Why cake and why not a boiled egg? Why does a bride have to be dressed in an expensive outfit and look best on her wedding? Why can't we just get married in normal everyday casual clothes? Rituals have taken over our minds, because we've stopped thinking who we really are and what we really want.

If we look closely, our lives are actually ruled by rituals and tradition since the day we're born. The family  introduces us to religious rituals from the very next day, whether its saying the “Azaan” in the baby's ear, or pouring holy water over the baby’s head. As the child grows older, he notices more and more rituals and subconsciously believes that’s the only way, or the right way and everyone else's way is unacceptable. And as adults it’s hard to let go of the channel we grown up in, and so these traditions we learn in childhood become a part of our everyday life without even questioning them or finding out their importance and what they mean to us.  Now in particular, I don't have any problem with rituals, but what I do have a problem with is their significance and their importance in our lives. It's hard for me to understand that why someone would want to spend their lifetime's saving on their daughter's wedding when they could do a lot of other useful things with that money. Why would someone who doesn't even like cake want to cut cake on their birthday? Why doesn't a bride ever wear black? Why should we get buried wrapped in white cloth and not red? I came across this story which sort of answers some of my perplexities.

As a little girl watches her mom prepare the Easter ham, she wonders why her mother cuts off both ends of the ham before putting it in the pot. So, she asks why, and her mom realizes that she doesn't know. That's the way her mother prepared the Easter ham.
So they call grandmother and pose the question about cutting off the ends of the Easter ham. Grandmother admits to not knowing either. She just prepared the ham the way her mom did it.
Their next call is to great-grandmother. When they ask her about her method of preparing the Easter ham, she laughs. Then she says, "It was the only way I could get the Easter ham to fit the small pot I had!"

So the point being, most of us have no clue as to why we're following a certain custom anyways! And it gets worse. We start arguing like little tots about why “our way” of doing things is better than everyone else. I think that we get lay way too much importance in act of performing the ritual that we forget the deeper meaning behind it. It’s often forgotten that it’s far more important for the  couple to be happy on a wedding , then spend fortunes on the event and costumes. The idea is celebration, and it doesn't necessarily have to be elaborate.  Even when it comes to religious rituals, often the meaning or significance behind the ritual is lost, and the ritual itself becomes the main importance. Comes Eid and everyone here in Pakistan are all set to slaughter their well decorated, ornament wearing,  henna tattooed , goats but if you stop and ask them “Why?”, then most of them would give you confused , half baked , incomplete  answers . Hardly anyone understands the central meaning behind it which is to sacrifice from what you have in order to give to the poor, and also distribute among family friends and neighbors in order to spread love and peace in the society. If we notice, all religions teach these basic values of humanity, but differ in traditions and rituals. So beneath the symbolism, the meaning is the same. So isn't that the same as 2+2, or 1+1+1+1 or 1+1+2?

What it all boils down to is fear. Fear of what the society will say, fear of displeasing the gods and perhaps fear of the much popular ‘life after death’.  So for most people the driving force behind these practices is fear. That’s why they are bound to become slave to the rituals without searching for a deeper meaning, or a convincing reason.  But that’s humans for you in general, show them a picture of hell, and they’ll do anything to avoid it, no matter how stupid or ridiculously senseless it may be.